# The Hidden Aspects of Sir Isaac Newton's Life and Work

Written on

Sir Isaac Newton is often remembered for his monumental contributions to mathematics and physics. Engraved on a plaque in Westminster Abbey is a binomial formula that can pinpoint celestial bodies, even those unseen by telescopes and observatories. This formula helps locate stars and moons in the vast sky.

Newton's work laid the groundwork for modern mathematical analysis and transformed the scientific method. By 1687, he was unveiling planets that had previously gone unnoticed, relying on calculations made in his notebooks rather than through physical observation. His seminal work, *Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy*, accurately described Kepler's elliptical orbits and the fascinating movements of comets.

## Newton’s Ingenious Inventions

Isaac Newton was born prematurely on Christmas in 1642, the same year Galileo passed away. His mother remarked on his small size at birth, suggesting he could have fit into a quart mug. His father had died three months prior, and his mother managed the family farm alone.

Three years later, she remarried, leaving young Newton under the care of his grandmother, who had little influence on his development. He attended primary school in Grantham, where he often avoided rough play, preferring to fly kites with lanterns.

Thanks to his ingenuity, he created various innovative toys. He constructed a wooden clock based on the sundial principle, a functional water mill, and even a mechanical mouse that could gnaw through flour. At the age of 16, he accurately measured the speed of a cart traveling across England using a small, self-made device.

His early inventions went largely unnoticed by his mother, who, after becoming widowed a second time in 1657, sought to have him take over the farm. However, Newton longed for intellectual pursuits rather than agricultural work. Eventually, he convinced her to allow him to attend university.

## A Transformative Educational Journey

This decision marked a pivotal moment in Newton's life. He later wrote, “I was in the prime of my age for invention & minded Mathematicks & Philosophy more than at any time since.” He prepared for the Cambridge entrance exam while boarding in Woolsthorpe. There, he encountered old geology and alchemy texts, and he met Miss Storey, the landlord's stepdaughter, who briefly captured his affections before he left for Trinity College in June 1661.

Upon arriving at Cambridge, Newton devoted himself to studying astronomy and mathematics, often forgetting about his engagement. The atmosphere at the university was charged with a desire for intellectual freedom, as students sought independence from government control. Newton later advocated for this independence.

Despite a faculty that generally sided with authority, he found a mentor in Isaac Barrow, a distinguished mathematics and geology professor. Newton, who entered college with minimal mathematical knowledge, learned from Barrow over four years. He famously stated, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants,” acknowledging the foundational contributions of earlier thinkers like Descartes and Galileo.

To support himself, Newton engaged in various crafts, which limited his time for experimentation. He inherited his mother’s frugality and avoided frivolous spending.

After graduating in 1664, he paused his studies due to the plague and returned to his village for two years, a period during which he made significant advancements in mathematics and physics, including the development of the fluxion method and the binomial theorem.

## The Apple and the Laws of Gravity

The tale of Newton and the falling apple is well-known, suggesting he formulated the principles of gravity while daydreaming beneath an apple tree. Historians often find this account amusing, yet it became a cherished story in England, with the tree in Woolsthorpe regarded as sacred until it fell in 1820. The Royal Society continues to preserve remnants of it.

Regardless of the story's veracity, many had witnessed apples fall without deriving the law of gravity. Paul Valery remarked, “One had to be a Newton to notice that the moon is falling when everyone sees that it doesn’t fall!” Newton himself attributed his discoveries to diligent study and contemplation.

## Investigating Light

Newton returned to university in 1667, bringing with him the notes he had compiled during his time away. He was granted Barrow's position at the university and began constructing a reflecting telescope to observe Jupiter's moons, validating his earlier calculations.

Through his experiments, he discovered that white light is composed of various colors. By passing light through a prism, he separated it into its component colors and later combined them, revealing differences in refractive indices. He proposed that light rays consist of tiny particles, leading to his ‘theory of corpuscles.’ This sparked intense debates with contemporaries like Hooke and Huygens, contributing to a period of personal turmoil for Newton.

Eventually, he grew weary of scientific disputes and withdrew from public life, finding solace in the company of cats. His solitude was disrupted by Edmund Halley, who sought Newton’s assistance in 1686.

With Halley’s support, Newton authored *Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica* in just 18 months, a work published in 1687 that outlined the three laws of motion and provided a comprehensive study of the solar system, including the principles governing tides and gravitational interactions.

In later years, Newton experienced paranoia and insomnia, believing himself to be surrounded by adversaries. He was dismayed to learn that Leibniz was credited with the discovery of calculus in Europe, leading to nationalistic tensions between England and Germany. Both he and Leibniz had independently developed the principles of calculus, albeit with different approaches.

Despite these challenges, Newton found recognition later in life, receiving the title of “Sir” and serving as president of the Royal Society. He also became a respected economist and businessman, amassing considerable wealth.

When his rivals thought him finished in science, he made a surprising comeback, resolving complex problems that others had struggled with for months. Jacques Bernoulli famously remarked, “I recognize the lion by his paw.”

Newton passed away on March 20, 1727, at the age of 85.