When an epidemic of the plague forced Cambridge University to close, a young Isaac Newton ( January 4, 1643 - March 31, 1727 ), then an unknown scholar, returned to his home in rural England . There he began to formulate the law of universal gravitation and nature of light which would make him a key figure in the scientific revolution. He was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, alchemist, inventor and natural philosopher who is regarded by many as the most influential scientist in history. Isaac Newton was the first to make a reflecting telescope, first to describe the law of gravity, first to describe the laws of motion, first to use a prism to show how sunlight is made of seven colors (same as the rainbow), invented Calculus.
Isaac Newton - brilliant rational mathematician or master of the occult? This innovative biography reveals Newton as both a hermit and a tyrant, a heretic and an alchemist. Magical images mix with actors and experts to bring alive Britain's greatest scientific genius in his own words.
Newton himself often told the story that he was inspired to formulate his theory of gravitation by watching the fall of an apple from a tree.Although it has been said that the apple story is a myth and that he did not arrive at his theory of gravity in any single moment,acquaintances of Newton do in fact confirm the incident, though not the cartoon version that the apple actually hit Newton's head. In the year 1666 he retired again from Cambridge to his mother in Lincolnshire. Whilst he was pensively meandering in a garden it came into his thought that the power of gravity (which brought an apple from a tree to the ground) was not limited to a certain distance from earth, but that this power must extend much further than was usually thought.
Newton's Apple Tree - Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire
Believed to be an decendant of an apple tree that existed here when Isaac Newton was growning up - this tree grew up from the fallen trunk of another that existed in his day.
Most importantly, Newton wrote the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica wherein he described universal gravitation and the three laws of motion, laying the groundwork for classical mechanics. By deriving Kepler's laws of planetary motion from this system, he was the first to show that the motion of bodies on Earth and of celestial bodies are governed by the same set of natural laws. The unifying and deterministic power of his laws was integral to the scientific revolution and the advancement of heliocentrism.
Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire, birthplace of Newton
Among other scientific discoveries, Newton realized that the spectrum of colours observed when white light passes through a prism is inherent in the white light and not added by the prism (as Roger Bacon had claimed in the 13th century), and notably argued that light is composed of particles. He also developed a law of cooling, describing the rate of cooling of objects when exposed to air. He enunciated the principles of conservation of momentum and angular momentum. Finally, he studied the speed of sound in air, and voiced a theory of the origin of stars. Newton shares credit with Gottfried Leibniz for the development of integral and differential calculus, which he used to formulate his physical laws. He also made contributions to other areas of mathematics, having derived the binomial theorem in its entirety. The mathematician and mathematical physicist Joseph Louis Lagrange (1736–1813), said that "Newton was the greatest genius that ever existed and the most fortunate, for we cannot find more than once a system of the world to establish."
Dr. allan chapman presents this entertaining introduction to the life and ideas of sir isaac newton (1643-1727).
VOA audio on Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton was born at Woolthorpe in Lincolnshire in 1642, the year of Galileo's death. He first attended the village school and laterthe public school at Grantham. He was a delicate child and at first far from industrious. An unprovoked attack from a boy above him led to a fight in which Newton's pluck was victorious. This success led him to greater exertions in school, and after a time he rose to be head boy. He early displayed a taste for mechanical inventions. He made wind-mills, water-clocks, kites, dials, and a carriage propelled by the rider. When he had attained his fifteenth year, his mother took him home to assist her in the management of the farm, but his dislike for farming and desire for study induced her to send him back to Grantham, where he remained until his eighteenth year, when he entered Trinity college, Cambridge. Little is known as to his attainments at this time. He tells us that he had bought a book on astrology at a fair, but on account of his ignorance of trigo- nometry could not understand its figures. So he bought a Euclid, but on look- ing it over, thought the propositions self evident and laid it aside as a trifling work. Newton was born in Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth (at Woolsthorpe Manor), a hamlet in the county of Lincolnshire. Newton was prematurely born and no one expected him to live; indeed, his mother, Hannah Ayscough Newton, is reported to have said that his body at that time could have fit inside a quart mug (Bell, 1937). His father, Isaac, had died three months before Newton's birth. When Newton was two years old, his mother went to live with her new husband, leaving her son in the care of his grandmother.
Sir Isaac Newton lectured on optics from 1670 - 1672. He worked on the refraction of light into colored beams using prisms and discovered chromatic aberration. He also postulated the corpuscular form of light and an ether to transmit forces between the corpuscles. His "Opticks", first published 1704 contains his postulates about the topic. This is the fourth edition in English, from 1730, which Newton corrected from the third edition before his death.
Trinity College, Cambridge
In 1661 he joined Trinity College, Cambridge, where his uncle William Ayscough had studied. At that time, the college's teachings were based on those of Aristotle, but Newton preferred to read the more advanced ideas of modern philosophers such as Descartes and astronomers such as Galileo, Copernicus and Kepler. In 1665 he discovered the binomial theorem and began to develop a mathematical theory that would later become calculus. Soon after Newton had obtained his degree in 1665, the University closed down as a precaution against the Great Plague. For the next two years Newton worked at home on calculus, optics and law of gravitation. He later continued his studies at Woolsthorpe Manor.
In 1685 and 1686 Newton composed almost the whole of his great work, the Principia. The credit of prior recognition of the law of the inverse squares was claimed by Hooke and Newton was generous and just enough to allow the claim. The whole work was published in 1687. A little later Newton's health became quite poor. He had neglected so often to take food and sleep and for quite a time suffered evil consequences. He had taken an active part in protecting the university against the encroachments of the crown, and this fact was the cause of his election to parliament as a representative of the university. During his London residence he be- came a friend of Locke. Newton was now in his fifty-fifth year, and up to this time had received no mark of national gratitude. Through Montague's efforts, he was now given the wardenship and later the mastership of the mint. Up to 1687 Newton's method of fluxions was still a secret. One of the most important rules of the method forms the second lemma of the second book of the Principia. Yet Newton did not exhibit his method in the results. So it was not communicated to the scientific world until 1693 in the second volume of Dr. Wallis' works. Newton's admirers in Holland had informed Dr. Wallis that Newton's method of fluxions passed there under the name of Leibnitz's Calculus Differentialis. It was therefore thought necessary that an early opportunity should be taken of asserting Newton's claim to be the inventor of the method of fluxions, and this was the reason for the method first appearing in Wallis' work. A fur- ther account of the method was given in Newton's Optics.
Up to 1687 Newton's method of fluxions was still a secret. One of the most important rules of the method forms the second lemma of the second book of the Principia. Yet Newton did not exhibit his method in the results. So it was not communicated to the scientific world until 1693 in the second volume of Dr. Wallis' works. Newton's admirers in Holland had informed Dr. Wallis that Newton's method of fluxions passed there under the name of Leibnitz's Calculus Differentialis. It was therefore thought necessary that an early opportunity should be taken of asserting Newton's claim to be the inventor of the method of fluxions, and this was the reason for the method first appearing in Wallis' work. A further account of the method was given in Newton's Optics. There is no doubt as to Newton being the inventor of fluxions, but it has been strongly contested whether Leibnitz invented his calculus independently, or borrowed it from the fluxional calculus with which at bottom it is identical. In 1674 Leibnitz announced to the Royal Society that he possessed analytical methods depending on infinite series by which he had found theorems of great importance relating to the quadrature of the circle. In reply he was informed that Newton had discovered similar methods for the quadrature of curves which extended to the circle.
In 1676 Newton had sent to Leibnitz a letter containing his binomial theorem, the now well known expressions for the expansion of an arc in terms of its sine, and its converse that of the sine in terms of the arc. This letter also contained an expression in an infinite series for the arc of an ellipse. Inquiries from Leibnitz followed and a reply by Newton. Newton commenced his letter by commending the method of Leibnitz for the treatment of series. He then states his three methods but does not clearly explain them. Leibnitz in reply explained his method of drawing tangents to curves, introducing his notation dx and dy for the infinitely small differences of the successive coordinates of a point on the curve, and showed that his method could be readily applied if the equation contained irrational functions. Further on he gave one or two examples of problems involving the integration of a differential equation of the first order which shows that Leibnitz was then in possession of the principles of the integral calculus. The sign of integration has been found to have been em- ployed by him in a manuscript of October 29, 1675, preserved in the royal library of Hanover. This proves that Leibnitz was in possession of his method before he had received any account of Newton's method of fluxions.
In 1684 Leibnitz made his method public. Thus while Newton's claim to priority of discovery is admitted by all, Leibnitz was the first to publish his method. Insinuations were made in 1699 that Leibnitz had derived his whole method from Newton and had merely changed the name and notation. At first Newton recognized Leibnitz as an independent discoverer of the calculus, and tried to stop the attack on Leibnitz. Yet he felt the justice of the recognition of his own priority, and against his will was dragged into a discussion which continued long after his death. The bitterness of the discussion was greatly augmented by national emulation. All mathematicians are now agreed that both men are entitled to be regarded independent discoverers of the principles of the calculus, while Newton was master of the method of fluxions before Leibnitz discovered his method. In 1707 Whiston published the algebraical lectures which Newton had delivered at Cambridge.
In addition to these other mathematical works, Newton had solved two celebrated problems proposed by Bernoulli and Leibnitz. In June, 1696, Bernoulli addressed a letter to the mathematicians of Europe challenging them to solve two problems : (1) To determine the brachistrochrone between two given points not in the same vertical line. (2) To determine a curve such that if a straight line drawn through a fixed point A meet it in two points P, and P 8 , then AP™ + AP 2 m will be constant. Six months were allowed by Bernoulli for the solution of the problems, and in the event of none being sent to him he prom- ised to publish his own. The six months elapsed without any solution being produced; but he received a letter from Leibnitz stating that he had "cut the knot of the most beautiful of these problems," and requested that the period of their solution should be extended to Christmas next. This was done. On Jan- uary 29th, 1696-97, Newton received two copies of the problems, and on the following day gave a solution of them to Montague, then president of the Royal Society. He announced that the curve required in the first problem must be a cycloid, and he gave a method of determining it. He solved also the second problem and showed that by the same method other curves might be found which shall cut off three or more segments having the like properties. Solu- tions were also obtained from Leibnitz and the Marquis de L'Hospital, yet Ber- noulli recognized the author in his disguise ; " tamquam," says he, "ex ungue leonem." In 1699 Newton's position as a mathematician and natural philosopher was recognized by the French Academy of Sciences. Eight foreign associates were added, among whom were Leibnitz and Newton.
From an early period of his life Newton had paid great attention to theological studies, and it is well known that he had begun to study the prophecies before 1690. M. Biot, with a view of showing that his theological writings were the production of his dotage, fixed their date between 1712 and 1719. That Newton's mind was even then quite clear and powerful is sufficiently proved by his ability to attack the most difficult mathematical problems with success. For in 1716 Leibnitz proposed a problem for solution "for the purpose of feeling the pulse of English analysts." The problem was to find the orthogonal trajectories of a series of curves represented by a single equation. Newton received this problem about 5 o'clock in the afternoon, but, though fatigued with business, he solved the problem the same evening. He left a number of biblical and theological dissertations. After a painful illness endured with great patience, he died in the eighty- fifth year of his age, on March 20th, 1726 .
Time line of Isaac Newton
Born at Woolthorpe
Enters trinity College, Cambridge
Awarded bachrlor's degree
Makes revolutionary discoveries in mathmatics, optics and physics. Most advanced mathematican of his time .
Awarded masters degree
Appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, Cambridge
Reflecting telescope is presented to Royal Society
first paper on light is presented to the royal Society . Elected fellow .
Second paper on light
Newton begins writing Principia
Elected to Parliment as representative of Cambridge University
Appointed warden of the mint
Again elected to Parliment as representative of Cambridge University
Elected president of the Royal Society
Knighted by Queen Anne
Lost heavily when the South Sea Company collapsed
Dies at Kensington on March 20 at age 84 . Newton never married. Although it is impossible to verify, it is commonly believed that he died a virgin.
Newton's Grave - Westminster Abbey
Isaac Newton Quotes
"If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants."
"I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only a boy playing on the sea-shore, 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."
"No great discovery was ever made without a bold guess"
"Tact is the knack of making a point without making an enemy."
“I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.”
“We build too many walls and not enough bridges.”
“To me there has never been a higher source of earthly honor or distinction than that connected with advances in science.”
James Gleick reveals the life of a man whose contributions to science and math included far more than the laws of motion for which he is generally famous
He was a 17th century Einstein, who reduced nature’s chaos to a single set of laws and revolutionized the thinking and outlook of his age. But in the midst of his astonishing breakthroughs in physics, optics, and calculus, Isaac Newton was also searching out hidden meanings in the Bible and pursuing the covert art of alchemy, or the changing of base metals into gold.