Isaac Newton, 1642 – 1727

Creative Mathematician and Physicist

When Newton was born, he was very tiny, such that he was not expected to live. His father died some months before his birth, and 3 years later his mother remarried. Isaac was passed on to his grandmother. When the mother's new partner died Isaac went back to living with his mother, and when he reaches school age, he was sent off to a boarding school.

Young Newton

This emotional turmoil and his apparent rejection by his mother may have been the cause of his psychological problems later in life. It has also been suggested he may have been suffering from lead poisoning, from drinking from a lead cup.


At the time Newton arrived at Cambridge University the sun was still rotating around the earth, while Nicolaus Copernicus and Johannes Kepler in Europe were pushing the idea that the earth rotates around the sun. This was a serious problem for the church. In a few years, Cambridge revised its views.

By 1665, Newton had completed his bachelor's degree, and when the black death plague arrived, he went home and stayed there for 2 years.

During this time, he formalized his ideas on calculus, and also on aspects of optics.


His work on optics showed that light consists of all the colors of the rainbow, which explained why chromatic aberration occurs. When light passes through the lenses of a refracting telescope the images always show a color fringe. Newton proposed and built a reflecting telescope to get around this problem.


This date, 1665, was an important date as a consequence of his bitter and prolonged disagreement with Gottfried Leibniz. The difficulty was the question of who was the first to develop calculus.

The attacks on Leibniz continued even after Leibniz had died.


In about 1680 Newton received a letter from Robert Hooke, suggesting that the gravitational force followed an inverse square law, while Newton had the idea that the gravitational force was constant.

Newton apparently accepted this suggestion from Hooke and proceeded to verify it using the data from Kepler's laws of planetary motion.

Mature Newton


Although Hooke had the original idea Newton substantiated it with experimental data and encapsulated the idea in the Mathematical Theory of Universal Gravitation. It was a Universal theory in the sense that the force was between all objects, not just planets and the sun. We are held on the surface of the earth by the force of attraction between the earth and us. We are also attracted to the sun, and the planets, but the forces there are very much less, because of the inverse square of the distances law.


Hooke charged Newton with plagiarism, he felt he had the original idea, and that he should be given credit for it. This was the beginning of another epic battle for Newton, a battle that lasted until Hooke's death.


In 1690 Newton published his next major work, Principia Mathematica.

It presented to the scientific world the 3 laws of motion, the law of inertia, the force law, and the equal and opposite reaction law. These formed the bases of the world of Classical Mechanics, which is still taught.


Later in life, Newton became the master of the mint, looking after the money for the crown, for which he was paid handsomely.

Newton was an extraordinary man

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