Sir Isaac Newton was an English physicist and astronomer. Newton was one of the greatest scientific geniuses of all time. He formulated the basic laws of mechanics and gravitation and applied them to explain the workings of the solar system—to the satisfaction of scientists for more than two centuries. Although modern physics has modified some of Newton’s principles, his findings are still considered valid in most situations. They form the basis of what is called Classical, or Newtonian, physics.
Newton’s contributions to optics and mathematics were also of major and lasting importance (See “Newton, Sir Isaac”, New Standard Encyclopedia).
II. Early Life of Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton was born in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, where his family owned a small estate. His father had died before his birth and his mother soon remarried. Newton, raised by an aged grandmother, developed solitary nature at an early age (Westfall, 1981).
Newton entered Trinity College at Cambridge University in 1661 and received a Bachelor’s degree in 1665.
He had planned to continue his studies at Cambridge that year, but the university was closed during 1665-66 due to an epidemic of bubonic plague and he returned home. In the following two years, Newton studied on his own, gaining many of the insights that formed the basis of his later discoveries. He formulated the binomial theorem (a mathematical principle) and invented both the differential and integral calculus in this period. Gottfried and Leibniz invented the calculus independently, and for many years the two men accused each other plagiarism (See “Newton, Sir Isaac”, New Standard Encyclopedia).
A. Nature of Light
While at home, Newton began experiments with light. He found that white light was refracted through a prism into various colors and that a second prism could recombine the colors into white light. He also invented the reflecting telescope. Newton’s work on light was later summed up in his Optics (1704), which conclusively established the study of light as a branch of physics. Newton’s corpuscular, or particle, theory of light was generally discredited until Max Planck’s quantum theory in 1905 shows that some aspects of light behavior are best explained by considering light rays as particles. Newton’s brilliance led to quick advancement. He was made a fellow of Trinity College in 1668 and received a master’s degree in 1669. In 1669 he was appointed a professor of mathematics, and in 1672 he was elected to the Royal Society (Westfall, 1981).
B. Gravitation and Motion
One day during 1665-66 while Newton was at the family estate, he saw an apple fall from a branch to the ground. He began to speculate whether the phenomena of gravity responsible for this commonplace occurrence might not extend as far as the moon. From Kepler’s third law of planetary orbits Newton quickly came to the hypothesis later framed in his Law of Gravitation — every particle of matter attracts every other particle with a force proportional to the products of their masses and inversely proportional to the squares of their distances. At this time, however, Newton restricted his hypothesis to celestial bodies. Later, both he and Robert Hooke came to believe that such a law of gravitation applied to all matter (See “Newton, Sir Isaac”, New Standard Encyclopedia).
Newton was not inclined to publish his findings, preferring to avoid the attention and criticism that publication would provoke. At the insistent urging of Edmund Halley, Newton finally relented. The result was Philosphiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687), published in Latin. The book begins by defining the terms such as mass, momentum, and force, terms which Newton was the first to use with precision. However, Newton’s assumption that space, time and motion are absolute was later refuted by Albert Einstein, who theory of relativity modified Newton’s laws of physics (See “Isaac Newton”. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia).
The book then states Newton’s Law of Gravitation and his three laws of mechanics—the branch of physics dealing with the attraction of forces upon bodies. Finally, Newton shows that the motions of the bodies of the solar system and Galileo’s law of acceleration are explained by these laws (See “Isaac Newton”. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia).
In addition, Principia did much to explain mathematically the gravitational influence of the moon on tides. It showed that comets follow an elliptical orbit. And it explained certain irregularities in the earth’s orbit by the fact that the earth is not a perfect sphere (See “Newton, Sir Isaac”, New Standard Encyclopedia).
IV. Influence and Later Life
Newton’s Principia was soon recognized as a stupendous feat of the human mind and as the culmination of the work of Galileo and Kepler. Though some 18th- century thinkers claimed that Newton’s physics had eliminated God from the Universe, except as a first cause, Newton reconsidered his findings to be an aid to religious belief. A firm, though somewhat unorthodox, Protestant, he wrote several theological works. In politics, Newton was a staunch Whig and represented Cambridge University in the House of Commons, 1689-90 and 1701- 02 (Westfall, 1981).
Newton was appointed to the lucrative position of warden of the mint in1696, and in this post reformed English coinage. In 1701 he resigned his professorship and fellowship at Cambridge to live permanently in London. Newton served as president of the Royal Society from 1703 until his death. He was knighted in 1705. Newton died a wealthy man and was buried in Westminster Abbey. They say that the cause of Isaac Newton’s death was due to Mercury poisoning because when his dead body was seen, they have found out that his body contains mercury (Westfall, 1981).
The poet Alexander Pope summarized his era’s view of Newton with this couplet:
Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night:
God said, Let Newton be! And all was light (Westfall, 1981).
Newton’s own view of himself was more modest:
I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great Ocean of Truth lay all undiscovered before me (Westfall, 1981).
Sir Isaac Newton greatly contributed to the fields Science and Mathematics. His studies are still used up to now. Some of the technological and other breakthroughs in our generation today are the products of his researches and studies. He will always be admired and adored by everyone. He made a great change in the history all over the world. Isaac Newton is indeed a God- given gift for all mankind. Therefore, he deserves all our respect and reverence.
“Isaac Newton”. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Newton
“Newton, Sir Isaac”. New Standard Encyclopedia. Volume 12. Pages 292- 294.
Westfall, R. S. (1981). Never at Rest: a Biography of Isaac Newton. Cambridge University Press.
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