Born In: Lincolnshire, England
A genius and proficient physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and alchemist, Sir Isaac Newton is considered to be the greatest and most influential scientist of all time. One of the paramount contributors of the 17th century ‘Scientific Revolution,’ he developed the principles of modern physics which he laid out in his book, ‘Philosophiae, Naturalis, Principia Mathematica.’ Popularly known as ‘Principia,’ the book highlighted the concepts of universal gravitation and laws of motion that remained at the forefront of scientific theories for centuries. Furthermore, he worked on and developed the theory of color. He was the first to lay out the fact that color is an intrinsic property of light and that when reflected, scattered, or transmitted, white light decomposes into numerous colors, often seen in the spectrum or in the rainbow. He was responsible for building the first practical telescope. Newton also contributed to the study of power series, generalized the binomial theorem to non-integer exponents, and developed a method for approximating the roots of a function. Apart from the aforementioned, Newton made a noteworthy and substantial contribution to the field of alchemy and theology. In his life, he held numerous significant positions. Apart from serving as the Lucasian Professor of mathematics, and the president of the ‘Royal Society,’ he also served as the Warden and Master of the Mint. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Newton single-handedly laid the groundwork for future discoveries by scientists across the globe.
Also Known As: Sir Isaac Newton
Died At Age: 84
father: Isaac Newton Sr.
mother: Hannah Ayscough
Born Country: England
Died on: March 31, 1727
place of death: Kensington, London, England
City: Lincolnshire, England
discoveries/inventions: Reflecting Telescope
education: Trinity College, Cambridge
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Isaac Newton was born on 4 January 1643, in Woolsthorpe Manor, England, to Hannah Ayscough and Isaac Newton Sr. His father died three months prior to his birth. Hannah remarried Reverend Barnabas Smith, leaving the three-year-old Newton under the care of his maternal grandmother, Margery Ayscough.
Newton received his preliminary education from ‘The King’s School’ in Grantham, where he excelled and achieved the top rank. He then enrolled himself as a sizar at the ‘Trinity College,’ Cambridge in 1661.
It was during his years at Cambridge that Newton developed an interest in physics, mathematics, optics, and astronomy. Though he was taught a standard curriculum, he developed an interest in advanced science and spent his time reading works of modern philosophers.
A plague epidemic of 1665 forced the shutdown of the college for two years, which Newton spent at his home in Woolsthorpe. However, he did not let go of his studies and continued the same privately.
It was during these two years of hiatus from regular studies that Newton worked on the development of his theories on calculus, optics, and the law of gravitation. He even discovered the generalized binomial theorem and began to develop a mathematical theory that later became infinitesimal calculus.
Newton contributed heavily to the field of mathematics, distinctly advancing every branch of the subject studied at the time. His work on fluxions or calculus was featured in a manuscript of 1666, which was later published along with his mathematical papers.
It was his solution to the contemporary problems in analytical geometry of drawing tangents to curves (differentiation) and defining areas bounded by curves (integration) that brought him into the limelight. Newton discovered that the problems were the inverse of one another.
He also discovered general methods of resolving problems of curvature through his method of fluxions and inverse method of fluxions, known today as ‘differentiation’ and ‘integration calculus.’ Unlike Leibniz’s usage of algebraically expressing calculus, Newton used both algebra and geometry to express the same.
Furthermore, Newton is credited for the generalized binomial theorem. He also came up with ‘Newton's identities,’ ‘Newton's method,’ and classified ‘cubic plane curves.’
Newton made a significant contribution to the theory of finite differences. He was the first to employ fractional indices and coordinate geometry to derive solutions to ‘Diophantine equations.’
He returned to Cambridge in 1667 and was elected as a fellow of Trinity. As a fellow of Trinity, he was asked to become an ordained priest. However, he managed to avoid it due to his unconventional views.
Newton postponed the ordination indefinitely but could not prolong it further as he was elected for the prestigious Lucasian Chair in 1669, an appointment for which ordination was a prerequisite. However, he secured special permission from Charles II and managed to avoid ordination.
As a professor, Newton was required to serve as a tutor. However, his special permission gave him a privilege, according to which he needed to deliver an annual course of lectures which he delivered on his work on optics.
Newton worked on his study of optics over a period of years, investigating the refraction of light by a glass prism. Years of elaborate, refined, and precise experiments led Newton to discover and conclude the fact that color is an intrinsic property of light and that light was composed of particles.
Newton concluded that white light is a mixture of infinitely varied colored rays, some of which are visible in the rainbow and the spectrum. Furthermore, he determined the fact that the refraction of white light, caused by a prism, into a multi-colored spectrum could be recomposed to white light using a lens and a second prism. He even determined the fact that white light, when refracted to form colored light, did not change its properties.
He concluded that color is the result of objects interacting with white light and that the objects themselves do not generate colors. The theory was later known as ‘Newton’s theory of color.’ To prove this theory, Newton built a telescope, known as the ‘Newtonian telescope,’ in 1668.
In 1704, Newton came up with his first published work on light, optics, and color titled ‘Opticks: A Treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light.’ His work, however, did not please everyone at the ‘Royal Society,’ including Robert Hooke with whom he shared an unpleasant relationship all through.
Newton could not take the criticism well, and he denied that his work had any shortcomings. Subsequently, he suffered from a nervous breakdown which escalated further after the death of his mother in 1679.
Newton went on a hiatus of six years, during which he withdrew from all sorts of intellectual correspondence. It was during this time that he developed his theory of gravitation and its effects, which he first started during the interval from Cambridge due to plague.
Newton realized that there is a single force that determines the motion of the Moon, the falling of an apple from a tree, and the relation between a pendulum and a sling.
Developing on Hooke’s theory, he proved that the elliptical form of planetary orbit would result from a centripetal force inversely proportional to the square of the radius vector.
Encouraged to work on the problem mathematically and offered remuneration for the same, Newton began to work on his theory of mechanics and gravitation and came up with his book titled ‘Philosophiae, Naturalis, Principia Mathematica’ in 1687.
Popularly known as ‘Principia,’ the first edition of the book laid the foundation of the science of mechanics. Newton explained that gravitational force was responsible for controlling the motions of the celestial bodies.
He even came up with the three laws of motion. First law: a stationary body will stay stationary unless an external force is applied to it. The second law: force is equal to mass times acceleration and a change in motion is proportional to the force applied, and the third law: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Though the publication of his work drew charges of plagiarism by Hooke, it was overruled as most scientists knew that Hooke had only theorized the idea.
The publication of ‘Principia’ elevated the reputation of Newton to greater heights. He was widely acknowledged for his discoveries which were ranked amongst humanity’s greatest achievements.
The rising popularity and reputation encouraged Newton to take an interest in other spheres, which made him more and more active in public life. His position at Cambridge interested him no more as he was drawn towards other issues. Following this, Newton was elected to represent Cambridge at the Parliament.
During the next few years, Newton expanded his circle to get pally with political philosophers like John Locke. While the world was still under the realm of Aristotelian philosophy and view of nature, a young generation of British scientists became influenced by Newton’s works and thought of him as their leader.
Newton faced another nervous breakdown during this time but recovered from the same pretty early. However, following the breakdown, he lost interest in scientific discoveries and started spending his time in the study of alchemy and prophecy.
In 1696, Newton was appointed as the Warden of the Mint. Subsequently, he moved to London to serve this long-desired governmental position. In 1699, he was promoted to the position of Master of the Mint. Holding the profile until his death, Newton worked on reforming the status of currency. He even moved the currency from silver to the gold standard.
Upon the death of Robert Hooke, Newton was elected as the president of the ‘Royal Society’ in 1703. However, his years as the president were afflicted by controversy and tyranny.
In 1705, Queen Anne knighted Newton. With this, he became the second scientist to be knighted after Sir Francis Bacon. However, many viewed the knighthood as the result of Newton’s political pursuits rather than an effort of his scientific discoveries or his service as the Master of the Mint.
In 1705, Newton was accused by Gottfried Leibniz of plagiarizing his research. Leibniz claimed that much before the publication of ‘Principia,’ he had discovered infinitesimal calculus. An investigation of the matter resulted in Leibniz being declared a fraud.
Another incident that depicts Newton’s tyranny during his years of power was his premature publication of the works of John Flamsteed without the latter’s approval. The incident escalated due to the fact that Flamsteed refused to provide Newton with his notes that the latter required for his revision of ‘Principia.
Despite having an extraordinary professional life, Newton’s personal life was less than perfect. He suffered from bouts of insecurity and pride. He even suffered from mental instability.
Newton spent his final years at Cranbury Park in Winchester, England with his niece and her husband. He had achieved considerable popularity due to his scientific discoveries and a whole lot of money as well.
Newton breathed his last on March 31, 1727, after experiencing severe pain in his abdomen. His mortal remains were buried at Westminster Abbey. Posthumously, Newton was adjudged the greatest scientist or genius who ever lived. He was even compared to the likes of Aristotle, Plato, and Galileo.
There is a monument by the name ‘Newton’s Monument’ at the entrance of Westminster Abbey, built in his memory. It also points out the greatness of the genius scientist and pays tribute to his scintillating discoveries.
For about a decade, from 1978 to 1988, an image of Newton appeared on ‘Series D'1’ banknotes, issued by the ‘Bank of England.’ The image portrayed him holding a book. It also had a telescope, a prism, and a map of the Solar System by his side.
‘The Oxford University Museum of Natural History’ houses a statue of Isaac Newton, looking at an apple at his feet. Furthermore, the piazza of the ‘British Library’ in London holds a large bronze statue of Newton.
It is said that the falling of an apple from a tree inspired this great scientist to discover the force behind the action which eventually led to the discovery of gravitational force.
He published the book ' Philosophiae Naturalis Mathematica,' which is widely considered to be one of the most important books in the history of science. In it, he described universal gravitation and the three laws of motion.
Isaac Newton was born in 1642, the same year that Galileo Galilei died.
The rivalry between Newton and Robert Hooke is well known and according to some sources, the hatred continued even after Hooke’s death and Newton had all portraits of Hooke destroyed.
One of Newton’s teeth was sold in 1816 at an auction for approximately $3,600.
It was Newton who first predicted that Jews would take back Israel and the prediction turned out to be absolutely correct!
The story that a falling apple inspired Newton to think about gravitational pull was first recorded by the French writer Voltaire.
When Newton was a young boy, his mother tried to persuade him to become a farmer. However, he was so bad at farming that she reluctantly sent him to college to study.
He was obsessed with the Bible and had calculated the date of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ to be April 3, 33 A.D. He had also calculated the earliest date of the Apocalypse as 2060 A.D.
He had an interest in alchemy and desired to procure the legendary ‘Philosopher’s Stone.’ He even wrote a 28-page treatise on the fabled stone.
A reclusive and secretive person, Isaac Newton has often been associated with various secret societies and fraternal orders.
Newton was eccentric by nature and once jammed a darning needle around the side of his eye. He was constantly experimenting with the properties of light and used himself as an ‘object of experimentation’ in order to find out whether the eyes were responsible for collecting or creating light.
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