Isaac Newton

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Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton

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Quick FactsIsaac Newton was born in 1642 near Wollsthrope, then Great Britain. He began to attended Cambridge University in 1661, but was sent home for a year (1665-1666) due to an outbreak of the bubonic plague in the university. He decribed that time as "the prime of my age for invention" - while walking in his garden then, popular legend has it that he witnessed an apple falling from a tree - He instantly became engrossed with the mystery of why objects fall towards the ground, and not upwards or horizontally. His numerous conjectures on the subject lead to not only to the forumlation of the Law of Universal Gravitation, but in the processes, he singlehandedly invented the calculus to cope with the new mathematics associated with his theories. He wrote Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which was more or less the go-to reference for any kind of problem arising from mechanics until Einstein's Theory of Relativity superceded it in the early twentieth century. After serving several academic positions at universities and just as many government positions, he was knighted in 1705 at Cambridge.His academic work spread throughout all of England quickly upon reception; however, it was not until years after his death that his brilliant ideas became universally accepted in Europe and beyond.Newton died in 1727, and was buried in Westminister Abbey where a memorial in his honor now stands. In 85 years, he became a physicist, mathematician, philosopher, alchemist, chemist, astronomer, and historian, while making substantial leaps in every field he forayed into.

Right: A map of Woolsthorpe, England

Above: Isaac Newton in a portrait by Godfrey Kneller (1689)

Conventional WisdomThere was no definite explanation of gravity prior to Newton's discoveries. If you dropped a quill and it bounced off the floor, the quill's negative vertical trajectory was seen to be a given. No mathematical formulations had beem made to formalize displacement vectors up to this point. Additionally, before his time, colors were merely thought to be modified versions of a white light - in fact, he proved quite the opposite to be true.What's New?Although Newton made countless contributions to physics, his most celebrated accomplishments had to do with his invention of the modern Calculus, the formulation of the Law of Universal Gravitation, and his groundbreaking work in the field of optics.At First Glance...Although his theories relating to classical mechanics, as well as his work on calculus, were generally well-recieved, some of his ideas on optics were controversial. This is understandable - this was truely groundbreaking work; much of it had never even been looked at so seriously before. He made great strides, but it was not taken seriously for half a century outside of Great Britain.Afterwards...By providing the foundations of modern calculus, describing the diffraction of light waves, and so forth, Newton opened up an entirely new world of high science to be studied and improved upon. When you drop a pencil on the ground, people don't just see a falling object, but rather an object sharing a mutual attraction with the Earth that is propelled in it's direction with an acceleration of 9.8047 m/s. His work provided a framework for Einstein to build his Theory of General Relativity upon, not to mention for most scientists or engineers dealing with any problem of mechanics to derive their solutions from. When you ride a bike, you are witnessing Newton's laws of motion at work. Also, that bike was most likely run through a battery of pre-production tests using simulation software testing it's strength based on Newton's formulations.

Below: Isaac Newton in themidst of an optical experiment

Sir Isaac NewtonversusSteve JobsThese are two obviously influential characters in their own respects - while Newton laid the groundwork for modern science, Jobs created a revolution in aesthetics and changed the way we see computers. However, that is also where their difference lays. Jobs dealt more in the arts and design aspects that his industry demanded of him, whereas Newton was purely a scholar of the high sciences of the time. All in all, one was a scientist; the other, a veteran of industry. While both contributed greatly to man's list of accomplishments, they had little directly between them.


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