Isaac Newton was one of the greatest scientists of all time. He is
best-known for his discovery of the law of universal gravitation and the
laws of motion. Much of modern science is based on the understanding and
use of his laws.
Isaac Newton was born on Christmas Day, 1642, in the small English
town of Woolsthorpe. His father, a farmer, died shortly before Isaac was
born. When the boy was three years old, his mother remarried and moved to
another town. Isaac stayed on at the farm in Woolsthorpe with his
grandmother. After attending small country school, he was sent at the age
of twelve to the Kings School in the near by town of Grantham.
At first Isaac was a poor student. He cared little for school work,
perferring to paint, make kites, write in notebooks, or invent toys. He
made no friends. Silent and dreamy, he was at the bottom of his class.
Oddly, it was a savage kick by a school bully that caused Newton’s great
mind to awaken. The mild, dreamy boy flew into a rage and beat the other
boy thoroughly. Isaac determined to beat the bully in school work as well.
Soon Isaac was at the head of his class.
In 1656 Newton’s stepfather died. His mother returned to
Woolsthorpe to take care of the farm left by Newton’s father. But she could
not manage the farm by herself. Isaac was taken out of school and brought
home to help her.
As a farmer, Newton proved to be a dismal failure. He neglected the
necessary chores and thought only of books to study and mechanical things
to make. There are many stories about him at that time that show how absent
minded he was becoming. One day while he was leading a horse, the animal
slipped its bridle and ran away. Isaac continued walking home with the
empty bridle, unaware that the horse was gone.
When an idea got into Newton’s head, he could think of nothing
else. Once, during a storm, his mother sent him to shut the barn doors to
keep them from being torn off. Half an hour later she went to see what was
keep the boy so long. He had forgotten all about the barn doors. They were
riped off the hinges, and Newton was jumping again and again from an open
window to the ground. Each time, he marked the spot where he landed. Newton
was trying to measure the force of the wind. when the gusts were strong,
hes jumps were longer than when the wind was weaker.Realizing that her son
was simply not suited to farm life, Newton’s mother sent him back to Kings
School. He graduated in 1661.
When he was 18 years old, Newton went to Trinity College in
Cambridge University. He quickly proved to his teachers that he was no
ordinary student. He read all the books he could get, especially those on
mathematics and physics. These interested him the most. His professors were
amazed to find that Newton knew about certain subjects even before he was
taught. the young man has mastered the subjects by himself.
In 1665, when Newton was only 25 years old, he worked out a basic
formula in Mathematics that has been used ever since. Today it is called
the Binomial Theroem.
That same year, 1665, Isaac graduated from Trinity College. He
wanted to stay on at the university to continue his studies. But the
plague, the Black Death, had broken out in England. The university was
closed and the students sent home, for the fear that the plague would
strike Cambridge. Newton then returned to Woolsthorpe.
Fear of the plague keep Newton close to the farm for the next 18
months. Almost always alone, He spent his time thinking out mathematical
problems. in those 18 months he laid the foundation for his lifes work.
During that time he hit upon a new mathematical tool he called fluxions or
flowing quantities. Today it is called calculus.
One day in 1665 Newtin was sitting in the garden in Woolsthorpe,
thinking about force that kept the moon moving around the earth, he saw an
apple fall from a tree. This set him thinking about falling objects. Why
did they fall down and not up? It must be because the earth is attracting
all objects to itself. The same force that made the apple fall downward
must also be attracting the moon and helping to keep it in orbit.
From these thoughts Newton began to work out the law concerning
attraction between all objects in the universe. The law is called the law
of Universal gravitation.
While at Woolsthorpe, Newton began experimenting with light. he
succeeded in showing that a beam of sunlight is made up of bands of colors
from red to violet, as in a rainbow. he called these bands the spectrum.
After the plague ended, Newton returned to Cambridge and continued
working on light and color. This work led him to the discovery of the
reflecting telescope. Most modern telescopes, such as that on Mount Palomar
in California, are based on Newton’s telescope. In recognition of his work
in mathematics and optics (the science of light) Newton was appointed
professor of Mathematics at Trinity College in 1669. Early in 1672 he was
elected a member of the Royal Society.
Although Newton experimented mostly with optics during these years
at Trinity College, his mind always return to the question of gravitation.
He was trying to calculate the exact amount of force that objects exert on
each other. Rather then spending time with people, he spent his time
working. He made very few friends and became more absentminded then ever.
Finally he completed the mathematics of the law of gravitation.
using this law, Newton in 1682 proved mathematically one of the laws of
Planetary Motion. This law was stated by the german astronomer Johannes
Kepler in the early 1600’s but he was not able to show mathematical proof.
Because he was a shy man who cared little for fame, Newton put
these and other calculations away in a drawer instead of making them
public. But his few friends knew of the brilliant work he was doing. Atlast
they persauded Newton to right a book in which he would explain his work on
Planetary Motion, Gravitation, and other matters.
In 1685 newton plunged into his gigantic taks. He drove himself
mercilessly, scarcely eating and sleeping. As he walked into his garden a
thought might suddenly occur to him. He would rush upstairs to his room to
jot it down, not even sitting down to write.
Newton’s book The Mathematical Principals of Natural Philosophy
appeared in 1687. It was written in latin, the language which most
scientific books were written in those times. Newton’s book is usually
called the Principia, after its Latin title. Many scientists think its the
most important scientific book ever written. It contains Newton’s famous
three laws of motion. It also contained his law of universal gravitation.
This law applies not only to heavenly bodies. It also explains why a
baseball drops from your hand to the ground and why a particle of dust
settles on a bookshelf.
During later years Newton served his country in Parliament, as well
as in other ways. In 1703 he was elected president of the Royal Society,
and in 1705 he was knighted by Queen Anne. Isaac Newton died in 1727. He
was burried in Westminster Abbey, among the great men of England. His
statue stands today in the hall of Trinity College, Cambridge University.
David C. knight. “isaac Newtons, Mastermind of modern Science” Groiler inc.