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# ISAAC NEWTON 1642-1727

Isaac Newton was an English physicist, mathematician, and natural philosopher and is considered one of the most important scientists of all time. Newton formulated laws of universal gravitation and motion — laws that explain how objects move on Earth as well as through the heavens.He established the modern study of optics — or the behaviour of light — and built the first reflecting telescope. His mathematical insight led him to invent the area of mathematics called calculus. Newton stated his ideas in several published works, two of which, *Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica* (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, 1687) and *Opticks* (1704) are considered among the greatest scientific works ever produced.

Newton’s revolutionary contributions explained the workings of a large part of the physical world in mathematical terms, and they suggested that science may provide explanations for other phenomena as well.

Newton was born in 1642 in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, England. Newton’s father died before his birth. When he was three years old, his mother remarried, and his maternal grandmother then took over his upbringing. He began his schooling in neighbouring town, and at the age of ten was sent to the grammar school at nearby Grantham. While at school he lived at the house of a pharmacist called Clark, from whom he may have acquired his lifelong interest in chemical operations. The young Newton seemed to have been a quiet boy who was skilled with his hands. He made sundials, model windmills, a water clock, a mechanical carriage, and flew kites with lanterns attached to their tails. However, he was very inattentive at school.

In 1656, Newton’s mother, on the death of her second husband, returned to Woolsthorpe and took her son out of school in the hope of making him a farmer. Newton showed no talent for farming, however, and according to legend he once was found under a hedge deep in study when he should have been in the market at Grantham.

Fortunately, Newton’s former teacher at Grantham recognized the boy’s intellectual gift and eventually persuaded Newton’s mother to allow him to prepare for entrance to University of Cambridge.

In June 1661, Newton became a student of Trinity College at Cambridge. His studies included arithmetic, geometry, trigonometry, and, later, astronomy and optics. He probably received much inspiration at Trinity from distinguished mathematician and theologian Isaac Barrow*, who was a professor of mathematics at the college.

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***Barrow, Isaac** (1630-1677) — English mathematician and theologian. Professor of Greek, Cambridge (1660-1663), first Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge (1667), resigned (1669**) **in favour of his pupil Isaac Newton.

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Barrow recognized Newton’s genius and did all he could to cultivate it.

When an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1665 temporarily shut down University at Cambridge, Newton returned to his native land, where he remained for nearly two years. This period was an intellectually rich one for Newton. During this time, he did much scientific work in the subjects he would spend his life exploring motion, optics, and mathematics. He had made great progress in what he called his mathematical “method of fluxion” (which today we call calculus). He also recorded his first thoughts on gravitation inspired (according to legend) by observing the fall of an apple in an orchard. The fall of an apple led him to think that the attractive gravitational force acting on the Moon. Newton believed that this force, although weakened by distance, held the Moon in its orbit.

In October 1667, soon after his return to Cambridge, Newton was elected to a minor fellowship* at Trinity College.

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***Fellowship **— the position of a fellow in a college. **Fellow — **a member of a society connected with some branch of learning or a certain university colleges.

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Six months later, he received a major fellowship and shortly thereafter was named Master of Arts. During the period he devoted much of his time to practical work in optics. His earlier experiments with prism convinced him that a telescope’s resolution is limited not so much by the difficulty of building flawless lenses as by the general refraction differences of differently coloured rays. He turned his attention to building a reflecting telescope, or a telescope that uses mirrors instead of lenses, as a practical solution. Mirrors reflect all colours of light by the same amount.

Newton was the first scientist to build a reflecting telescope. He built a telescope with a 3.3 centimetres mirror in 1668. This telescope magnified objects about 40 times. Three years later, Newton was invited to submit his telescope for inspection. Newton’s dominance in this field was established by publishing a description of the instrument.

In 1669, Newton’s important manuscript *De Analyst* appeared. The work contained many of Newton’s conclusions about calculus (what Newton called his “fluxional method”. Although the paper was not immediately published its results became known to several of the leading mathematicians of Britain and Europe. This paper established Newton as one of the top mathematicians of his day and as the founder of modern calculus (along with Leibniz*).

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***Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm, Baron von **(1646-1716) — a German thinker and mathematician who invented the calculus at the same time as but independently of, Newton.

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In 1669, Newton became the new professor of mathematics and chose optics as the subject of his first course of lectures.

In early 1672, Newton was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. Shortly afterwards Newton offered to submit a paper detailing his discovery of the composite nature of white light. His work was published.

By 1679, Newton had returned to the problem of planetary orbits. The tract of the laws of motion formed the basis of the first book of *Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica.* Scientists and scholars consider this work a milestone of scientific inquiry. The work finally appeared in 1687. The scientific community hailed it as masterpiece. The book’s grand idea of gravitation, with effects extending throughout the solar system, captured the imagination of the scientists. This work used one principle to express diverse phenomena such as the tides, the irregularities of the Moon’s motion, and the slight yearly variations in the onset of spring and autumn.

In 1687, Newton helped to lead Cambridge’s resistance to the efforts of King James II to catholicize it. After James had been driven away from England, the university elected Newton one of its representatives in the Convention Parliament. The following four years were filled with intense activity. He published *Principia* which was a great triumph. In *Principia* he tried to put all his earlier achievements into their final form. In the summer of 1693, Newton exhibited symptoms of a severe emotional disorder. Although he regained his health, his creative period had come to an end.

Newton’s connections with the leaders of the new regime in England led to his appointment as warden (and later master) of the Royal Mint in London, where he lived after 1696. In 1703, the Royal Society elected him president, an office he held for its rest of his life. As president he undertook to force the immediate publications of the astronomical observations of the Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed*, which Newton needed to perfect his lunar theory.

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***Flamsteed, John **(1646-1719)-— English astronomer.

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He also engaged in a violent dispute with Leibniz over priority in the invention of the calculus. The aftermath of the quarrel lingered nearly until his death in March, 1727 in London. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, the first scientist to be so honoured.

Newton’s place in scientific history rests on his application of mathematics to the study of nature and his explanation of a wide range of natural phenomena with one general principle — the law of gravitation. He used the foundation of dynamite, or the laws of nature governing motion and its effects on bodies, as the basis of a mechanical picture of the universe. His achievements in the use of calculus went so far beyond previous discoveries that scientists regard him as the chief pioneer in the field of mathematics.

Newton’s work greatly influenced the development of physical sciences. During the two centuries following publication of *Principia,* scientists and philosophers found many new areas in which they applied Newton’s methods of inquiry and analysis. The reassessment of Newton’s ideas about the universe led to the modern theory of relativity and to quantum theory.

Besides scientific work, Newton left substantial writings on theology, chronology, alchemy, and chemistry.