Isaac Newton


There is almost no question that Sir Isaac Newton possessed the greatest scientific mind in history. He made dramatic advances in the separate fields of Mathematics, Mechanics and Optics, and his achievements in any one of the three would have assured his position as a hero of science. His discoveries in all three areas however, set him apart from any number of other great minds in the field. What is even more astounding is that he developed revolutionary theories in all these areas over a three year period in his early twenties, after he was dismissed from Cambridge when it closed due to the plague. During the few years he spent at home, working entirely alone, he developed the framework for a scientific revolution and spent the rest of his life working out the details. Newton's most famous publications, including Principia, and Optics, gained him world-wide renown, but they were published long after he developed his theories, and his genius had already been recognized by his closest associates.

The three great accomplishments of Newton can be very briefly describes as follows. In the area of Mathematics, he developed the binomial theorem and invented the field of calculus. In the realm of physics, he hypothesized for the first time that planetary motion was caused by the force of gravity. This hypothesis was the basis for his three laws of motion on which the entire field of mechanics is founded. In the field of optics, he proposed the "particle theory of light", and hypothesized that white light is really a combination of other colors. All of these discoveries were foundational, meaning they opened the door to a great many other observations and theories regarding the physical universe. Newton's discoveries in science therefore, can be compared to the discovery of the New World by Columbus. They opened the door to a broad range of further scientific activity.

In terms of his personal life, Newton was extremely introverted and reserved in most of his dealings, but was very highly regarded by his scientific colleagues. He was quiet and unpresupposing in most of his relations. He never married and frequently failed to publish his latest findings. Most of his discoveries and ideas became known because he communicated them informally to colleagues rather than publishing them officially. He was made a mathematics professor at Cambridge at age 29, and later in life became a warden of the mint, but few demands were made on his time in either position since he was more inclined to quiet reflection than to public activity.

In terms of Newton's personal philosophy, he was by all accounts a sincere Christian, although like many men of his age, he harbored his own ideas about particular points of dogma. He was however, aware of the rumblings of rationalist philosophy, and understood that his scientific discoveries could be used to discredit revelation and hypothesize an impersonal God in a manner at odds with his Christian beliefs. To this end, he spent a great deal of his time studying the bible and theology and wrote several papers on Christian philosophy. Modern students would find his study of scriptures and minor points of doctrine somewhat tedious, but his larger concern was entirely correct and in fact prescient. The eighteenth century was the hey-day of the enlightenment, and the discoveries of Newton were, in fact, used extensively by enemies of Christianity to promote the idea of an impersonal and uninvolved creator.

Key events during the life of Sir Isaac Newton:

Sir Isaac Newton is born.
Enrolled at Cambridge. Studied mathematics, astronomy and philosophy.
Left Cambridge due to the plague.
Worked for two years at home. Developed binomial theory and calculus, and investigated gravity and optics.
Attained professorship of Mathematics at Cambridge.
Developed detailed theories of light.
Published Principia describing universal gravitation and laws of motion.
Published treatise on calculus.
Became warden of the Mint.
Published Optics laying
Knighted by Queen Anne.
Death of Newton.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Sir Isaac Newton and the Apple  in  Thirty More Famous Stories Retold  by  James Baldwin
Great Sir Isaac Newton  in  Stories of the Great Scientists  by  Charles R. Gibson
Sir Isaac Newton  in  Famous Men of Modern Times  by  John H. Haaren
Sir Isaac Newton  in  Story Lives of Great Scientists  by  F. J. Rowbotham
Sir Isaac Newton  in  Great Englishmen  by  M. B. Synge
Newton and the Finding of the World Secret  in  Children's Stories of the Great Scientists  by  Henrietta Christian Wright

Image Links

Isaac Newton
 in Famous Men of Modern Times

Newton and the prism
 in Famous Men of Modern Times
Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton
 in Back Matter
Newton analysing the Ray of Light
Newton analysing the Ray of Light
 in Back Matter

Sir Isaac Newton
 in Story Lives of Great Scientists

The birthplace of Newton
 in Story Lives of Great Scientists

Why an apple falls
 in Story Lives of Great Scientists

Newton's London house, pulled down in 1914
 in Story Lives of Great Scientists

Sir Isaac Newton
 in Children's Stories of the Great Scientists

Short Biography
Leibniz German mathemetician who independently developed a theory of Calculus.
Charles II Restored to the throne after death of Cromwell. Presided over the great fire and plague of London.
Christopher Wren English Scientist and Architect during the reign of Charles II. Rebuilt St. Paul's after the London Fire. Founded the Royal Society.
Halley Discoverer of Halley's Comet and scientific contemporary of Newton.
Robert Boyle Early British chemist who studied pressure and gasses.