Isaac Newton, universally considered to be one of the greatest and most influential scientists of all time, was an English mathematical and physicist, widely known for his outstanding contributions to physics, mathematics and optics. He also invented the calculus, and formulated the three laws of motion and the universal theory of gravitation. Newton proved that sunlight is the combination of several colors. He performed as the master of the Royal Mint in London and as the president of the Royal Society of London.
Early Life and Education:
Born on January 4, 1643, Newton was so frail at the time of his birth that the housemaids were unsure that the baby would live any longer. Isaac Sr. had died a few months before his birth, while his mother, Hannah Ayscough, married again to another man, Reverend Barnabas Smith, with whom she had three more children.
His mother left little Newton to live with her new husband while he was raised by his maternal grandmother. Newton had mostly a solitary childhood, though at 12, he joined the grammar school at Grantham. At school, once he had a fight with another boy, and whilst he was weaker, he still managed to win the fight and banged the opponent’s nose on the church wall. This kind of vindictive behavior endured throughout his lifetime.
Creating sundials, wooden objects and drawings were some of his favorite hobbies at school. He made a model windmill with a mouse on a treadmill for supplying power. A four-wheeled cart was also one of his creations which was powered by rotating a crank he had set up.
His mother called Newton back to manage the family farm when he was 17. He was never good at the job, though. A young Newton showed more interest in creating models and reading books. Luckily enough, his schoolmaster at Grantham, and his uncle William Ayscough, utterly impressed with Newton’s skill and determination, suggested his mother to let him stay at the school.
After finishing school in June 1661, Newton went on to join Cambridge University. There, he was annoyed with the traditional Aristotelian curriculum and shunned many of the assigned books, instead concentrating on his studies about science, mathematics and philosophy. He carefully and devotedly read books by Galileo, René Descartes, Euclid and Johannes Kepler. Within a year, he was able to record original insights in his notebooks.
Contributions and Achievements:
Not long after his graduation in 1665, the Cambridge closed down due to the plague epidemic for almost two years. Newton, therefore, returned to home where he came up with the calculus, which he termed as the “fluxional method.” Isaac Barrow, the Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge, was immensely impressed with his work. Newton got his master’s degree in 1668, and assumed Barrow’s position after his resignation. His lectures were said to be too difficult for the students.
His contributions during 1669 and the early 1770s were mostly related to optics. He put forward a theory of colors. He also constructed a reflecting telescope which magnified objects 40 times. For this invention, he was honored by The Royal Society, where he was made a member in January 1672. An article was published during this time about his theory of colors in February 1672. When Robert Hooke challenged him in an inappropriate manner, Newton was furios. He had experimented with colors extensively for several years and was confident about his peculiar ability and research.
Newton published his legendary publication “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica” in 1687, a masterpiece that introduced the world to the three laws of motion and the universal principle of gravitation.
His another notable rival was Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz who claimed to have invented the calculus first. As Newton’s Principia came after Leibniz’s calculus, some started to think that Newton borrowed his method from Leibniz. The truth was that Newton had invented the calculus between 1665 and 1666, but he was reluctant to publish his work for years, while Leibniz introduced his work in 1684. Leibniz actually received letters from Newton in 1671 and 1676 regarding mathematics, and he was either directly or indirectly influenced by Newton. The feud settled down in 1716 after Leibniz’s death.
Newton is also credited with the generalized binomial theorem, valid for any exponent.
Later Years and Death:
Newton soon got bored with academia, so he became the warden of the Royal Mint in 1696. He revolutionized its operations and was made a master of the Mint in 1700. He was also selected as the president of the Royal Society from 1703 until his death. Queen Anne knighted Newton in 1705. In his final years, Newton suffered from several physical illnesses. He died on March 20, 1727 in London, England.