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## Mini Science Bio – Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727)

Sir Isaac Newton was not only one of the greatest physicists who ever lived, but he was also one of those scientists who contributed greatly to mathematics. He made most of his mathematical contributions while he was first a student and then a professor at Trinity College, Cambridge between 1661 and 1696. Our world would not be the same today without the important discoveries of this yeoman farmer’s son.

The years 1665-66 were one of the worst for England when the bubonic plague devastated all the big cities. 1665 is also the year Newton earned his BA When the school was closed to fight the plague, Newton retired to the family farm at Woolsthorpe. During these two years spent in isolation doing nothing but devoting all his time to physics and mathematics, Newton discovered the law of gravity and made important advances in mathematics.

Here’s a list of the 23-year-old Newton’s accomplishments during those two crucial years:

He discovered the law of universal gravitation, invented the calculus (at the same time as Leibnitz but independently of Leibnitz in Germany), further developed the binomial theorem, and began his lifelong studies in optics and theory of Colours.

There, during his two-year stay at the farm, Newton discovered and demonstrated that the same force that pulls a rock toward the earth (i.e., gravity) is the same force that pulls the moon toward the earth and keeps it in orbit. He later developed this into a “Principle of Universal Gravitation” which stated that any two objects in the universe attract each other in direct proportion to the product of their masses and inversely as the square of the distance between them.

Newton is best known for his 3 laws of motion:

Law 1 (Law of Inertia): If an object is at rest and there is no net force acting on it, it will remain at rest. If it is moving at a constant speed and no net force is acting on it, it will continue to move at that constant speed.

Law 2: F = ma, or: the net force acting on an object is its mass multiplied by the acceleration of the object. Thus, if an object is moving at a constant speed, that is, if its acceleration is zero, then there is zero net force acting on it.

Law 3: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If A is pushing B with a force of F, B is also pushing A in the opposite direction with a force of F. The Sun attracts the Earth, and the Earth attracts the Sun with the same force!

During the years 1668 and 1669, Newton worked in optics at the University of Cambridge.

1669 is another important year in Newton’s life, as it is when Professor Isaac Barrow resigned the famous “Lucasian Chair” at Cambridge and offered it to Newton as his second occupant. With the security of a good tenured position, Newton continued his studies of the nature of light and optics with renewed vigour.

Here is a summary of Newton’s various contributions to the science of optics, some of which later culminated in his 1704 book also titled “Optics.”

Newton developed instruments for grinding lenses into shapes other than spheres. He is the first in the history of mankind to discover that, when passed through a prism, sunlight splits into a beam of rays of different colors. On the basis of this observation he developed the first successful explanation of rainbows.

The great physicist also discovered the telescope that is still known today by his name; invented a reflecting microscope in 1672, as well as a sextant which was independently discovered in 1731 by J. Hadley.

However, for all his bold discoveries in optics and color theory, Newton came under fierce attack in the 1670s. Sometimes less-than-genius minds need a little lag time to catch up with discoveries greatest in human history.

Even if Newton had died in his twenties, his place in the world of mathematics and science would have been secure enough. But he lived another 60 years and pushed the boundaries of human reason and science even further, thanks to his extraordinary gifts as a physicist and mathematician.

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