Huygens and mechanics

The term ‘mechanics’ is derived from a Greek word meaning ‘machine’. Mechanics described the forces at work on, and created by, levers, pulleys and other such tools. The scope of the subject developed over time into a science which describes the mathematical aspects of all forces and movement.

In the seventeenth century, mechanics took on a special new meaning thanks to the science of physics. The French philosopher René Descartes proposed that all natural phenomena could be explained by the mechanical action of the minutest material particles. As such, knowledge of the laws of mechanics amounted to knowledge of the laws of nature. This was the reason that Huygens was particularly interested in this field. He became a famous mechanical scientist mainly thanks to the following discoveries:

  • the laws of impact
  • the laws of the pendulum
  • the law of centrifugal force.