A Biography of the Great English Physicist and Mathematician.
Isaac Newton excelled as a physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher and theologian and is rightly still considered to be one of the foremost scientific intellects of all time.
Isaac Newton was born in 1643 in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire. His father had died three months before Newton was born and his mother remarried when he was three years old. His mother moved away to live with her new husband and Newton was sent to live with his maternal grandparents. Newton was educated at The King’s School, Grantham and, after proving to his family that he wasn’t suited to a career as a farmer, was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1661.
Although he had a fairly undistinguished career as a student at Cambridge, Newton did become interested in mathematics, physics, astronomy and optics. When the plague epidemic of 1665 caused the university to be closed for two years, Newton returned to his home in Woolsthorpe and pursued his scientific interests keenly with private study. It was during this time that he began to think about gravity and started to develop theories relating to optics and mathematics.
Newton returned to Cambridge in 1667 and became a fellow of Trinity College. Two years later he was appointed second Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. It was Newton’s creation of the reflecting telescope in 1668 that finally brought him to the attention of the scientific community and in 1672 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society.
From around 1665, Newton began conducting a series of experiments on the composition of light and discovered that white light is composed of the same system of colours that can be seen in a rainbow. It was this discovery that established the modern study of optics (or the behaviour of light). In 1704 Newton published The Opticks which explained his theories and discoveries about light and colour. During this period he also studied and published respected works on history, theology and alchemy.
In 1687, along with his friend the astronomer Edmond Halley, Newton published his greatest work, the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which explained Newton’s three laws of motion. These laws showed how a universal force, gravity, applied to all objects in all parts of the universe.
In 1689, Newton was elected MP for Cambridge University. He actually served as MP for two periods (1689 – 1690 and 1701 – 1702) but his only recorded comment while at Westminster was to complain about a draft in the chamber and ask for the window to be closed. In 1696 Newton was appointed warden of the Royal Mint and moved from Cambridge to London. He took his duties at the Mint very seriously and campaigned against corruption and inefficiency within the organisation. In 1703, he was elected president of the Royal Society, an office he held until his death. Newton was knighted in 1705.
Newton could be a difficult man since he was prone to depression and often became involved in bitter arguments with other scientists, but he was held in high esteem by his friends and most of his colleagues and by the early 1700s Newton was the dominant figure in British and European science.
Isaac Newton died on 31 March 1727 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.