Sir Isaac Newton (Born 25 December 1642 – 20 March 1726/27) was an English mathematician, physicist, astronomer, alchemist, theologian, and author who was described in his time as a natural philosopher. He was a key figure in the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment that followed.
His pioneering book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), first published in 1687, consolidated many previous results and established classical mechanics. Newton also made seminal contributions to optics, and shares credit with German mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz for developing infinitesimal calculus.
Isaac Newton is regarded as one of the most essential scientists in history. Even Albert Einstein stated that Isaac Newton was once the smartest character that ever lived. During his lifetime Newton developed the principle of gravity, the legal guidelines of action (which grew to become the groundwork for physics), a new kind of arithmetic known as calculus, and made breakthroughs in the vicinity of optics such as the reflecting telescope.
Isaac Newton was born in Woolsthorpe, England on January 4, 1643. His father, a farmer who was also named Isaac Newton, had died three months before his birth. His mother remarried when Isaac was three years old and left young Isaac in the care of his grandparents.
Isaac attended a school where he was an adequate student. At one point his mother tried to take him out of school so he could help on the farm, but Isaac had no interest in becoming a farmer and was soon back at school.
Isaac grew up mostly alone. For the rest of his life, he would prefer to work and live alone focused on his writing and his studies.
College and Career
In 1661, Isaac began to attend college at Cambridge. He would spend much of his life at Cambridge, becoming a professor of mathematics and a fellow of the Royal Society (a group of scientists in England). He eventually was elected to represent Cambridge University as a member of parliament.
Isaac had to leave Cambridge from 1665 to 1667 because of the Great Plague. He spent these two years in study and isolation at his home in Woolsthorpe developing his theories on calculus, gravity, and the laws of motion.
In 1696 Newton became the warden of the Royal Mint in London. He took his duties seriously and tried to get rid of corruption as well as to reform the currency of England. He was elected President of the Royal Society in 1703 and was knighted by Queen Anne in 1705.
In 1687 Newton published his most important work called the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (which means “Mathematical principals of Natural Philosophy”). In this work he described the three laws of motion as well as the law of universal gravity. This work would go down as one of the most important works in the history of science. It not only introduced the theory of gravity, but defined the principals of modern physics.
The King’s School
From the age of about twelve, until he was seventeen, Newton was educated at The King’s School in Grantham, which taught Latin and Ancient Greek and probably imparted a significant foundation of mathematics. He was removed from school and returned to Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth by October 1659. His mother, widowed for the second time, attempted to make him a farmer, an occupation he hated. Henry Stokes, a master at The King’s School, persuaded his mother to send him back to school. Motivated partly by a desire for revenge against a schoolyard bully, he became the top-ranked student, distinguishing himself mainly by building sundials and models of windmills.
University of Cambridge
In June 1661, Newton was admitted to Trinity College at the University of Cambridge. His uncle Reverend William Ayscough, who had studied at Cambridge, recommended him to the university. At Cambridge, Newton started as a subsizar, paying his way by performing valet duties until he was awarded a scholarship in 1664, which covered his university costs for four more years until the completion of his MA. At the time, Cambridge’s teachings were based on those of Aristotle, whom Newton read along with then more modern philosophers, including Descartes, and astronomers such as Galileo Galilei and Thomas Street. He set down in his notebook a series of “Quaestiones” about mechanical philosophy as he found it. In 1665, he discovered the generalized binomial theorem and began to develop a mathematical theory that later became calculus. Soon after Newton obtained his BA degree at Cambridge in August 1665, the university temporarily closed as a precaution against the Great Plague. Although he had been undistinguished as a Cambridge student, Newton’s private studies at his home in Woolsthorpe over the next two years saw the development of his theories on calculus, optics, and the law of gravitation.
In April 1667, Newton returned to the University of Cambridge, and in October he was elected as a fellow of Trinity. Fellows were required to be ordained as priests, although this was not enforced in the restoration years and an assertion of conformity to the Church of England was sufficient. However, by 1675 the issue could not be avoided and by then his unconventional views stood in the wa Nevertheless, Newton managed to avoid it by means of special permission from Charles II.
His academic work impressed the Lucasian professor Isaac Barrow, who was anxious to develop his own religious and administrative potential (he became master of Trinity College two years later); in 1669, Newton succeeded him, only one year after receiving his MA. Newton was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1672.
Isaac Newton made many scientific discoveries and inventions throughout his career. Here is a list of some of the most important and famous ones.
- Gravity – Newton is probably most famous for discovering gravity. Outlined in the Principia, his theory about gravity helped to explain the movements of the planets and the Sun. This theory is known today as Newton’s law of universal gravitation.
- Laws of Motion – Newton’s laws of motion were three fundamental laws of physics that laid the foundation for classical mechanics.
- Calculus – Newton invented a whole new type of mathematics which he called “fluxions.” Today we call this math calculus and it is an important type of math used in advanced engineering and science.
- Reflecting Telescope – In 1668 Newton invented the reflecting telescope. This type of telescope uses mirrors to reflect light and form an image. Nearly all of the major telescopes used in astronomy today are reflecting telescopes.
Newton died on March 31, 1727 in London, England. Today, he is considered one of the most influential scientists of all time alongside greats such as Albert Einstein, Aristotle, and Galileo.
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Interesting Facts about Isaac Newton
- He studied many classic philosophers and astronomers such as Aristotle, Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Rene Descartes, and Galileo.
- Legend has it that Newton got his inspiration for gravity when he saw an apple fall from a tree on his farm.
- He wrote his thoughts down in the Principia at the urging of his friend (and famous astronomer) Edmond Halley. Halley even paid for the book’s publication.
- He once said of his own work “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”