Isaac Newton: The First of the Giants in Science

Posted: January 4, 2010 in Main Articles & Blog News, Science
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For scientists and science groupies such as myself, today is a significant date in history: On January 4, 1643, the man who would be best known for his Universal Laws of Gravitational Motion, Sir Isaac Newton, was born in Woolsthorpe near Grantham in Lincolnshire, England.  I could go on and say something about his personal biography – but I won’t.  There have been a bazillion books and stories written about Newton, and a simple search on Google or Bing will get you about 3.5 million results.  A good history about Newton’s life can be found in this entry from Microsoft Encarta, which is on the Isaac Newton Institute’s website. Instead, I’ll gush on about some of the great contri-butions and a few highlights of the Great Man.

There’s only so much one can put in a blog about Newton. It would be like trying to write about… God.  Then again, today is like Christmas, not just for scientists, but for all of the world. While Newton’s contributions didn’t necessarily save souls, they have helped make this planet a much more hospitable place. Newton’s Laws of Gravitation have been the basis of solid fundamental engineering, resulting in the creation of stronger bridges, sturdier buildings and speedier, more efficient transportation.  The architect Sir Christopher Wren, who was partly responsible for an “urban renaissance” in England, was one of Newton’s contemporaries, and may have sought his assistance on many occasions. Indeed, we see Newton’s famed Laws at work, everywhere we go.

In addition to his famed Laws of Motion, Newton made groundbreaking work into optics, astronomy, heat and mechanics. To facilitate his calculations, he developed that branch of mathematics that would eventually become the nightmare of every first-year college student: differential calculus.  This last bit was tainted by a feud with mathematician Gottfried Leibniz (who formalized integral calculus).  That, and his funky studies on alchemy and the end-of-the-world reveal a idiosyncratic character behind the demigod of Science. Other than that, Newton lived a fairly simple and virtuous life (he never married), dedicated to intellectual pursuits and public service.

Newton often said that he was inspired to further develop his Laws of Motion after watching an apple fall from the tree. Every schoolchild knows the story. What is noteworthy is that he had been on holidays from his schooling at Cambridge. Because of the H1N1 – I mean, the Black Plague (heheh) – classes had been cancelled, so young Newton had plenty of time to cool his heels and muse about scientific ideas at his home in Woolsthorpe. Until then, he was unremarkable as a student. [Sound familiar? In 1905, a young patent clerk named Albert Einstein published four seminal papers in physics – all while waiting two years to be admitted to a graduate program. Contrary to conventional research opinion, revolutionary ideas often result away from the lab, and not in it.  Just something to consider.]

In celebration of the Geomancer of Gravity’s Birthday, I now list Newton’s Law’s of Motion, in as authentic a Middle English accent I could phrase:

Newton’s First Law: An objecte in a staite of reft tendeth to stay at reft, lest a Forthe acteth upon it. If saith objecte is in motionne, then it remaineth in motionne.

Newton’s Second Law: The summe of the Forthe that acteth upon an objecte is equivalente to the objecte’s acthelerationne couplede with its mass.

Newton’s Third Law: For two objectes in directe oppositionne to the other, both objectes exerteth Forthes equalle in strengthe yet opposing directionnes.

Happy 367th Birthday, Sir Isaac Newton!

Copyright Anabasius 2010

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