Sir Isaac Newton ? Iconic Scientist


One of England’s greatest Icons is Sir Isaac Newton the discoverer of the equation of gravity. Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), mathematician and physicist was one of the foremost scientific intellects of all time. Born at Woolsthorpe, near Grantham in Lincolnshire in 1642, where he attended school. Many years ago at school I was taught the story that Sir Isaac Newton was sitting under an apple tree (Which is still there today) in his garden when he saw a falling apple.

He conceived that the same force governed the motion of the Moon and the apple. He calculated the force needed to hold the Moon in its orbit, as compared with the force pulling an object to the ground. This eventually became the book “Principia”.

He also calculated the centripetal force needed to hold a stone in a sling, and the relation between the length of a pendulum and the time of its swing. These early explorations were not soon exploited by Newton, though he studied astronomy and the problems of planetary motion.

Book I of the Principia states the foundations of the science of mechanics, developing upon them the mathematics of orbital motion round centres of force. Newton identified gravitation as the fundamental force controlling the motions of the celestial bodies. He never found its cause. To contemporaries who found the idea of attractions across empty space unintelligible, he conceded that they might prove to be caused by the impacts of unseen particles.

Book II inaugurates the theory of fluids: Newton solves problems of fluids in movement and of motion through fluids. From the density of air he calculated the speed of sound waves.

Book III shows the law of gravitation at work in the universe: Newton demonstrates it from the revolutions of the six known planets, including the Earth, and their satellites. However, he could never quite perfect the difficult theory of the Moon’s motion. Comets were shown to obey the same law; in later editions, Newton added conjectures on the possibility of their return. He calculated the relative masses of heavenly bodies from their gravitational forces, and the oblateness of Earth and Jupiter, already observed. He explained tidal ebb and flow and the precession of the equinoxes from the forces exerted by the Sun and Moon. All this was done by exact computation.

Newton’s work in mechanics was accepted at once in Britain, and universally after half a century. Since then it has been ranked among humanity’s greatest achievements in abstract thought. It was extended and perfected by others, notably Pierre Simon de Laplace, without changing its basis and it survived into the late 19th century before it began to show signs of failing. See Quantum Theory; Relativity.

Newton has been regarded for almost 300 years as the founding example of modern physical science, his achievements in experimental investigation being as innovative as those in mathematical research. With equal, if not greater, energy and originality he also plunged into chemistry, the early history of Western civilization, and theology; among his special studies was an investigation of the form and dimensions, as described in the Bible, of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem.

Time line of Sir Iasaac Newton

1642 Born at Woolsthorpe, Nr. Grantham, Lincs.

1661 he entered Cambridge University.

1665-1666 was “the prime of my age for invention”.

1667 He was elected a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.

1669 became Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University.

Until 1696 he remained at the university, lecturing in most years.

During two to three years of intense mental effort he prepared Philosophiae Naturalis Published in 1687 Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) commonly known as the Principia.

1696 he moved to London as Warden of the Royal Mint.

1699 he became Master of the Mint an office he retained to his death in 1727.

1671 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.

1689 and again between 1701-1702 Newton was elected Member of Parliament for the University of Cambridge to the Convention Parliament.

1703 he became President of the Royal Society.

1704 “Opticks” was published.

1705 was knighted in Cambridge.

1710), Newton published an incomplete theory of chemical force.

After Sir Isaac Newton’s death in 1727 he had posthumously published his writings which included: The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended (1728), The System of the World (1728), the first draft of Book III of the Principia, and Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St John (1733).

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