Sir Isaac Newton was an English mathematician and physicist. He was considered one of the greatest scientists in history. Newton was also the culminating figure in the scientific revolution of the 17th century. Newton was best known for his discovery that the force called gravity affects all objects in space and on earth.
Isaac Newton was born on December 25, 1642, in the hamlet of Wollsthorpe, Lincolnshire (R.S.W. 17) His Father died only three months before he was born (Sir Isaac Newton 1). When he was three years old Isaac’s mother, Hanna, placed him with his grandmother so that she could remarry a man named Barnabas Smith, a wealthy man from North Witham (Dr. Robert A. Hatch 1).
When his mother returned to Woolsthorpe in 1653, Newton was withdrawn from school to fulfill his birthright as a farmer. Newton failed at farming, and returned to King’s School at Grantham to prepare for entrance to Trinity College, Cambridge. A turning point in Newton’s life was when he left Woolsthorpe for Cambridge University in June of 1661 (Dr. Robert A. Hatch 1).
Although Cambridge was a marvelous center of learning, the spirit of the scientific revolution had yet to enter its curriculum. In 1665 Isaac Newton took his bachelor’s degree at Cambridge without honors or distinction (Dr. Robert A. Hatch 2). In 1665 the university was closed because of the plague. At this time Newton returned to Woolsthorpe. There, in the following 18 months, he began revolutionary advances in mathematics, optics, physics, and astronomy (J. A. Schuster 1).
During the plague years, Isaac Newton laid the foundation for elementary differential and integral Calculus. He invented the “method of fluxions” which was based on his crucial insight that finding the area under its curve is the inverse procedure to finding the slope of the curve at any point (J. A. Schuster 1). Also during the plague years he made remarkable discoveries in optics. He had reached the conclusion that white light is not a simple, homogeneous entity. He proved this by passing a thin beam of sunlight through a glass prism which created a spectrum of colors on the wall opposite. Isaac argued that white light is a mixture of many different types of rays, that the different types of rays are refracted at slightly different angles, and that each type of ray is responsible for producing a given color (J. A. Schuster 2).
Newton’s greatest work was in physics and celestial mechanics. In 1666, Newton had formulated early visions of his three laws of motion (J.A. Schuster 3). Also during these years he examined the elements of circular motion and, applying his analysis to the moon and the planets, found the inverse square relation that the radially directed force acting on a planet decreases with the square of its distance from the sun. This was later crucial to the law of universal gravitation (Sir Isaac Newton 3).
When the University of Cambridge reopened after the plague in 1667, Newton put himself forward as a candidate for a fellowship (Sir Isaac Newton 3). He was elected to a minor fellowship at Trinity College but, after being awarded his Master’s Degree, he was elected to a senior fellowship in 1668. Before he had reached his 27th birthday, he succeeded Isaac Barrow as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics (Dr. Robert A. Hatch 2).
In 1672, shortly after his election to the Royal Society, he communicated his first public paper, a controversial study on the nature of color (Sir Isaac Newton 4). The paper was generally well received but Hooke and Huygens objected to Newton’s attempt to prove, by experiment alone, that light consists of the motion of small particles rather than waves. Although his hypotheses was not convincing, his ideas about scientific method won universal assent along with his corpuscular theory. These reigned until the wave theory was revived in the early 19th century (Newton, Sir Isaac 2).
Newton’s relations with Hooke soured. Newton withdrew from public discussion for about a decade. After 1675, he devoted himself to chemical and alchemical researches. He postponed the publication of a full account of his optical researches until after the death of Hooke in 1703. Newton’s Opticks appeared in 1704. Newton’s Opticks dealt with the theory of light and color and with Newton’s investigations of the colors of thin sheets. It also contained “Newton’s Rings” and the phenomenon of diffraction of light(Newton, Sir Isaac 2).
In 1689, Newton was elected to represent Cambridge in Parliament. During his stay in London he became acquainted with John Locke, the famous philosopher, and Nicolas Fatio de Duillier, a brilliant young mathematician who became a friend. In 1693, however, Newton suffered a severe nervous disorder (Dr. Robert A Hatch 4). There are many interpretations to the cause of this disorder. Some of these interpretations include overworked, the stress of controversy, and perhaps mercury poisoning the result of nearly three decades of alchemical research. After his recovery Newton sought a new position in London. In 1696 Newton was appointed Warden and then Master of the Mint (Dr. Robert A. Hatch 4).
In 1703, Newton was elected president of the Royal Society and was annually reelected until his death (Dr. Robert A. Hatch 5). In 1705 Isaac Newton was knighted (Margret C. Jacob 390). His time as president has been described as cruel, and his control over the lives and careers of younger disciples was all but absolute. Newton could not stand for contradiction or controversy; his quarrels with Hooke provided a single example. Later disputes, as president of the Royal Society, Newton used all the forces he could muster. An example of this is when he published Flamsteed’s astronomical observations without the author’s permission. In the end, the actions of the Society were extensions of Newton’s will. Until his death Newton dominated the landscape of science without rival (Dr. Robert A. Hatch 5). Issac Newton died in London on March 20, 1727 (R.S.W. 20).
In conclusion, Sir Issac Newton was one of the greatest scientists in history. Newton was also the culminating figure in the scientific revolution of the 17th century. Many of his theories have become foundations for many areas of science.