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Sir Isaac Newton

Posted in Historical articles, History, Science on Wednesday, 29 June 2011

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Sir Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727) was the most significant figure in the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, and is arguably the greatest of all scientific thinkers, the most original in his conceptions and influential in his reach.

Newton, picture, image, illustration

Sir Isaac Newton watches the famous falling apple and conceives the law of universal gravity

He was a posthumous son to a yeoman labourer and might have spent his life as a small farmer in Lincolnshire, but fate decreed he would be separated from his remarried mother, and implacable hatred for his stepfather developed in him a character trait of stubbornness and quarrelsome enmity which would later dog his dealings with the Royal Society, and in particular, the reviled and loathed Robert Hooke. Discontent with his agricultural future after his stepfather’s death led to the singlemost important decision made on his behalf: to enter him at Trinity College, Cambridge. It was the making of England’s greatest scientific genius, and he later became a fellow and eventually the Professor of Mathematics at the age of 26. He synthesised the work of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and Descartes, as well as the thinking of Hobbes and many others, to arrive at his theory of planetary motion, which would blossom into the three laws of motion and the law of universal gravitation. All was revealed in his Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687), probably the most significant scientific textbook in the history of science. It is well known that in 1666 Newton supposedly watched apples falling in his Lincolnshire garden, and this led him to his great idea, but in truth he had spent twenty years pondering the subject. This grumpy man gave to us a new theory of light and colour, as well as countless modern developments which are now encompassed by classical mechanics. If Newton could be as easily characterised as his universe, we would doubtless be a little closer to the truth about this brilliant and complex man, a perfect example of the troubled genius.

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