Isaac Newton is a renowned mathematician and physicist from England who brought revolution in science in the 17th century. He was born in Woolsthorpe (a hamlet situated in Lincolnshire), England on January 4, 1643. His father was also named as Isaac Newton who had died three months before his son’s birth. His mother’s name was Hannah Ayscough Newton who left him at three years of age to get married to a minister, Barnabas Smith. Newton lived with his maternal grandmother until the age of 12, when he went under his mother’s care after the minister’s death.
Newton started school at the same age from the King’s School in Grantham where he studied chemistry by an apothecary. At the age of 17, his mother removed Newton from school and put him to farming and managing other family affairs, but Newton failed in fulfilling such responsibilities. Upon recognizing Newton’s inclination towards, he was allowed to continue with his schooling which he completed successfully.
At the age of 18, in June 1661, Newton started his undergraduate studies in law at the Cambridge University’s Trinity College and worked for the wealthier students to financially support his studies. The curriculum at his university was majorly based on the ancient ideas of Aristotle and taught ideas that presented the universe through a geocentric view and took qualitative approach towards nature instead of quantitative one.
This was the time when a lot of revolutionary work had already been done and was being done by the great minds of science. Newton spent his spare time to study works of such scientists including theories on the heliocentric view of universe by Nicolaus Copernicus and Johannes Kepler, works in mechanics by Galileo Galilei, concepts of motion in physics by René Descartes etc. Through these modern scientific works, Newton led onto the path of making new discoveries by compiling the Quaestiones Quaedam Philosophicae (Certain Philosophical Questions); including in it many questions that had remained unanswered by science by then, related to gravity, nature of light, color, vision, atoms. This compilation of his served as a framework for the revolution to come in the future of science.
Upon graduation from the Cambridge, Newton received a scholarship for higher education of four years. During his second year in 1665, at just an age of 22, Newton discovered the Binomial Theorem. The same year Cambridge University was compelled to be closed due to widespread of the Great Plague. Newton returned to his homeland and continued his private studies there for around 18 months. During this time he made great advancements in infinitesimal calculus, theory of light and color, the laws of planetary motion etc. He resumed his studies at the Cambridge in 1667 and received an M.A. Degree in 1668. Meanwhile, he had been made a fellow at the Trinity College. In 1669, Newton succeeded Isaac Barrow who was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics and started delivering lectures annually on the his findings in optics.
In 1668 Newton made a great achievement by constructing a reflecting telescope that proved his theory of optics. Notes on his theory were later published in 1672 as Newton’s Opticks: Or, A treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflections and Colours of Light. Since then, Newton has done a lot of work in various fields including calculus, optics, physics, astronomy and even alchemy. Some of his most prominent discoveries have been summarized below.
Newton carried out a detailed analysis on planetary motion during 1679 for which he carried experiments to study the concepts of earth’s rotation, its elliptical orbit, effect of gravity etc. This was prior to his discovery of universal gravitation.
Laws of Motion
Newton also worked on the dynamics of universe and passed three laws of motion based on his findings. These laws
- Without application of an extra force a body cannot change its state of rest.
- The force applied on a body is equal to mass times its acceleration. [F=ma]
- Every action is accompanied by a reaction that is equal and opposite of it.
These laws helped Newton in making different calculations for the Earth and other bodies in the universe. De Motu (On Motion) and Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica were two of his publications in planetary dynamics that resulted in the laws of motion and universal gravitation.
Law of Universal Gravitation
This law is another of Newton’s great and influential discoveries in science which shows the relationship of gravitational force between two objects with their masses and the distance between them.
F = Gm1m2 / r2
F= Gravitational Force
G= Gravitational Constant
m1= Mass of first body
m2= Mass of second body
r= Distance between the bodies
Newton’s scientific journey slowed down when he became a warden of the Mint in 1969 and later Master of the Mint. He got knighted Queen Anne of England in 1705, which entitled him to be called as Sir Isaac Newton. He died at the age of 84, on March 31, 1727 and was buried in London.