Isaac Newton


The chief figure of the scientific revolution of the 17th century was Sir Isaac Newton. He was considered one of the best scientists of all time. Much of modern science is based on the understanding and use of his laws (Knight 206). Although he is best known for the discovery of the law of universal gravitation, he also laid foundations of calculus, extended the understanding of color and light, and studied the mechanics of planetary motion. No other man has been as influential on our perceptions of our world than Isaac Newton (Martens).


Isaac Newton was born on Christmas Day in 1642, in the small town of Woolsthorpe, England . His widowed mother remarried when he was three and left Isaac behind to stay with his grandmother on the family’s farm. At the age of twelve, he was sent to Kings School in Grantham, a nearby town. He was, at first, a poor student. He did not care about his schoolwork; he just wanted to paint, write in his notebooks and invent toys. He was, consequently, at the bottom of his class. Oddly, it was a school bully that motivated him to do better in school. The bully kicked him and Isaac flew into a rage and beat him to pieces. This inspired him to beat the other boy in schoolwork as well. He soon became the head of his class. In 1656, his stepfather died and his mother returned to manage the farm; Isaac was taken out of school to help her. Newton was a complete failure at farming so his mother sent him back to Kings School where he graduated in 1661 (Knight 206). His mother’s brother, a clergyman who had been an undergraduate at Cambridge, persuaded Isaac’s mother to send him to a university (Fowler).


In 1661, Isaac attended Trinity College, Cambridge University, as a poor scholar. For the first three years, he paid his way through school by waiting tables and cleaning rooms for the fellows (faculty) and wealthier students (Fowler). He showed no particular promise at Cambridge, but Isaac Barrow, who held the Lucasian chair of mathematics, encouraged him. He quickly proved to his professors that he was no ordinary student- he read all the books he could get, especially those about mathematics and physics (Knight 206). In 1665 at the age of 22, he worked out a basic math formula that is used to this day. It is now called the binomial theorem. That same year, he received a degree and graduated from Trinity College. Newton was also elected a scholar and was guaranteed four years of financial support (Fowler). He would have stayed to continue his studies and get his MA, but the Great Plague broke out and the university closed (Biography).


During the time of the Plague, Newton returned home to his family’s farm in Woolsthorpe and continued in his studies of light, mathematics, and gravity. During this time at home, he first understood the theory of optics, and the theory of gravitation (Fowler). In 1665, a falling apple raised the question in his mind of whether the force exerted by the earth in making the apple fall was the same force that attracted the moon to “fall” towards the earth and so stay in orbit around the earth (Biography). These thoughts inspired Newton to begin working out the law concerning attraction between all objects in the universe. This is now called the law of universal gravitation (Knight 207).


Around 1666, Newton began his study of optics. By passing a narrow beam of light through a prism in a dark room, he discovered that white light could be made to separate into a series of different colors. The beam of light projected the emerging rays on a panel and got a brilliant spectrum of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. He then directed the colored beams through another prism and recombined them, thus getting back to the original light. He also isolated the colors one at a time and found that nothing could be done to change them in any way. From this, he concluded that white light was a mixture of pure colors. This was called the theory of optics(Mueller, Conrad, and Rudolph).


Upon return to Cambridge, Newton became a