“Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night;
God said “Let Newton be” and all was light.”
Almost all of us are familiar with Isaac Newton. Newton is by far one the most popular scientists in the world, rivaled only perhaps, by Albert Einstein in terms of popularity. He is someone who was first introduced to us in school. While in school we were made to study the theories that Newton formulated all throughout his lifetime. Learning about his work has influenced a great many people towards taking up research as a career but at the same time many found his theories to be a unnecessary burden which was forced upon them by the education system. Isaac Newton is often cited as one of the greatest physicists and mathematicians of all-time. Many surveys have ranked him as the greatest physicist ever.
So, what is it that makes Newton so special ? What great work did he exactly do ?
Sir Isaac Newton was born on December 25, 1642 in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, England. He was born prematurely, ‘a small child’, in the words of his mother. He studied at The King’s School, Grantham which imparted a basic level of education in Mathematics. His mother wanted him to become a farmer initially but was persuaded by the headmaster of the school to let Newton continue with school. At school, he was subjected to bullying, but he refused to let it subdue him, and went on to become a top-ranked student in school. In school, he engaged in several projects, such as making model sundials or windmills.
He later enrolled at the Trinity College, Cambridge to pursue higher studies. While in college, Newton formulated the renowned Theory of Gravitation. The theory was revolutionary in every way, especially at the time. It suggested that every object having a certain definite mass exerts an attractive force on another such object. This theory laid the foundation for the modern understanding of the universe. It is interesting to note here that most of Albert Einstein’s work on the Theory of Relativity is just an extension/correction of Newton’s theory of gravitation.
Apart from discovering gravity, Newton was also a very prominent mathematician. Newton is often credited along with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz as the person who gave rise to an entirely new branch of mathematics that has become the basis for theories of our time- calculus. Most of the modern theories would have been impossible to formulate without the knowledge of calculus. Other acheivements of Newton in the field of Mathematics includes the binomial theorem and coordinate geometry.
In 1687, Newton published the book called Principia. In the book, Newton described the three laws of motion for the first time. Those three laws gave birth to the field of Mechanics ( now popularly known as Newtonian Mechanics ). With the understanding of mechanics it became easy to describe any physical system. These laws of motion were the driving force behind the Industrial Revolution in England. They helped in a lot of mechanical advancements in the following years. The laws of motion still play an important role today and form the basis of the non-relativistic understanding of physical systems.
Along with Mathematics & Mechanics, Newton also contributed greatly in the field of Optics. Newton was the first person to understand and explain the phenomenon of dispersion of light through a prism. He also proposed the famous Corpuscular Theory of Light, which suggested that light is made up of tiny particles called ‘corpuscles’. The theory was not very well-received and attracted a lot of criticism. But, in the following years it was finally proved that light does exhibit particle nature. Though the modern understanding of the particle nature of light is very different from that of Newton’s, it still can’t be overlooked that he was the first to suggest this idea. He also worked on something now known as Newton’s Rings, a procedure to find the defects in lenses & correct them. Thus, it helps in the designing of very advanced & precise lenses.
Thus, we can see that if it wasn’t for Isaac Newton, modern science would have never flourished as much it has today. He was a true genius and a revolutionary thinker. He has given this world more than we can even think of. His ideas have led to some of the most important discoveries made by mankind.