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SCIENCE HERO:
SIR ISAAC NEWTON
by Matthew from San Diego


"I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me" (BrainyQuote qtd). Isaac Newton discovered much of his great ocean of truth throughout his lifetime. "Isaac Newton (1642-1727) is best known for having invented the calculus [branch of mathematics] in the mid to late 1660s . . . and for having formulated the theory of universal gravity - the latter in his Principia, the single most important work in the transformation of early modern natural philosophy into modern physical science. Yet he also made major discoveries in optics beginning in the mid-1660s and reaching across four decades" (Smith). Additionally, "After Newton had received his master's degree, Barrow reportedly resigned the Lucasian professorship, requesting that Newton take his place. This was a remarkable gesture, since Barrow was only 39 years old at the time. Barrow recognized Newton's genius, however. He knew that if Newton took the position, he would remain in mathematics, since it only required that he lecture one hour a week." ("Isaac Newton"). Newton accomplished great things, but his values are what make him a hero. Newton is a hero because he persisted throughout his life, shared his discoveries when he could, and had a lasting impact on science and mathematics.



Isaac Newton was persistent in his work. His persistence was particularly evident when he "spent all but three months from the summer of 1665 until the spring of 1667 at home in Woolsthorpe when the university was closed because of the plague. This period was his so-called annus mirabilis. During it, he made his initial experimental discoveries in optics and developed . . . the mathematical theory of uniform circular motion." (Smith). During the plague, he made some of his most amazing discoveries, even with all the stress any epidemic will bring. In his solitude, he endlessly worked and experimented, until the university he attended reopened. Newton also showed persistence while defending his work:

Newton's response to Hooke in the debate over his light and colors paper is a good illustration of his experimental philosophy. In that paper Newton claimed that his experiments conclusively established that the phenomenon of the oblong shape of the image of sunlight shined through a round hole and refracted through a prism is caused by sunlight's being made up of rays that are refracted different amounts by the prism . . . Hooke interpreted Newton as claiming that the experiments established a corpuscular theory of light and argued that his own wave hypothesis could account for the results equally well. Newton responded by pointing out that the hypothesis that light is a body was put forward only as a conjecture suggested by the experiments, and not as part of what he claimed to have been established by them. ("Isaac Newton")

He effectively defended his hard work against people who spent most of their time in one field, while he was spread across many fields in science and mathematics. His persistence is evident in how he stood up for his work, instead of giving up to an 'expert' in optics. to need to persistently defend his work, he needed to publish it in the first place, which he eventually did with all of his work.


Newton shared all of his work with the scientific and mathematical communities in time for them to be helpful to others. This was evident when "in 1684, English astronomer Edmond Halley (1656-1742) told Newton about a particular problem concerning the movement of planets that no one could solve. After Newton immediately told him the answer, Halley asked how he knew, and Newton said simply that he had calculated it nearly 20 years earlier." ("Isaac Newton"). He shared his discovery with Halley, as well as the proof, to end a long debate about the shape of orbits around a star in a solar system. Isaac's work solved the unsolvable problem, clearing up the roadblock stopping so many astronomers from making any progress. Additionally:

He developed the calculus. His 1672 paper on colors confirmed the heterogeneous nature of light. In the early 1670s Newton constructed the first practical reflecting telescope. In the following decade, the mathematical physics of the Principia mathematica(1687) yielded spectacular results: the laws of motion, the inverse-square law of universal gravitation, elegant mathematics to underpin astronomy and physics, and the unification of terrestrial and celestial mechanics. In the three editions of this work, he also developed principles of an inductive method that still serve science in the early twenty-first century. (Snobelen)

When he shared these discoveries, they boosted the progress of optics and astronomy, and paved the way for further discoveries with upgraded tools. His Principia mathematica's three editions might have been his most influential project, proving major theories and laws in physical science. Through sharing his work, Newton heavily influenced the mathematical and scientific communities.


Isaac Newton had a long lasting influence on the scientific and mathematical communities, boosting them forward and proving impossible problems. One major part of his influence was in "Newtonian" work.

Only the public Newton influenced the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, yet any account of Newton himself confined to this material can at best be only fragmentary. Second is the contrast, often shocking, between the actual content of Newton's public writings and the positions attributed to him by others, including most importantly his popularizers. The term "Newtonian" refers to several different intellectual strands unfolding in the eighteenth century, some of them tied more closely to . . . those who saw themselves as extending his work, such as Clairaut, Euler, d'Alembert, Lagrange, and Laplace - than to Newton himself. (Smith)

Newton didn't influence the 18th and early 19th centuries as much as he did later, but he still caused newtonian branches to develop. His public writings also heavily influenced and boosted the fields in which he worked. When he published the Principa, for example, he shared his theory of universal gravitation, among other discoveries like the nature of light. In addition to solving impossible problems, Isaac made some amazing discoveries that are well-known today. "The famous story of Newton's apple occurred during the annus mirabilis. While resting under a tree, he watched an apple fall to the ground. At that moment, he had the brilliantly intuitive thought that perhaps the same force affected both the apple and the moon. From this notion, he eventually came to his great law of universal gravitation. Isaac always swore that this story was true" ("Isaac Newton"). Today, most people who know about the theory of gravity also know about Newton's apple incident. Newton's influence is so great because he makes discoveries from thinking about the events in everyday life, and noticing relationships and proving them. He noticed what no one else would. Without him, we wouldn't have our modern understanding of how the universe works.


Isaac Newton's persistence allowed him to make a lasting impact on his fields of research, in turn causing his shared information to be more powerful, making him a hero to mathematics and science. Isaac solved impossible problems, saw what no one else could, and continued his work through an epidemic. "So small and sickly was the premature infant Newton that no one thought he would survive. His mother, Hannah Ayscough, later recalled that he was so tiny, he could have fit in a quart jar." Isaac grew from that helpless, sickly infant into an amazing scientist and mathematician. "By 1664, Newton had begun reaching beyond the standard curriculum . . . By early 1664 he had also begun teaching himself mathematics . . . by late 1666 he had become de facto    the leading mathematician in the world, having extended his earlier examination of cutting-edge problems into the discovery of the calculus" ("Isaac Newton"). This shows how Newton's life is an inspiration, because he turns from the hopeless baby into the world's best mathematician and an impressive scientist.    "I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me" (BrainyQuote qtd). Isaac Newton grew from that small boy into a hero uncovering as much of that ocean as possible.



Works Cited

BrainyQuote. Xplore, n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2013.

"IsaacNewton." Math & Mathematicians: The History of Math DiscoveriesAround the World. Gale, 2008. Biography in Context. Web. 11 Dec.2013.

Smith, George. "Isaac Newton." Stanford University. Stanford University, 19 Dec. 2007. Web. 08 Dec. 2013.

Snobelen, Stephen. "Isaac Newton." Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics. Ed. Carl Mitcham. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. Biography in Context. Web. 11 Dec. 2013.



Written by Matthew from San Diego
Last changed on: 12/23/2014 5:09:55 PM

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