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A Short Biography on Isaac Newton

[bctt tweet=”“I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies but not the madness of people.”– Isaac Newton” username=”Sciencehook”]

This was a quote by a great person who is credited as one of the greatest minds of the 17th century Scientific Revolution.

If at all, you were giving a thought on who it is, let me offer you another clue.

He was the one who wrote “Principia Mathematica.” Well, I think that answers the question. It is none other than Sir Isaac Newton. And Yes, today, we will see about  Sir Isaac Newton.

Isaac Newton was a Mathematician and Physicist who developed principles of modern physics. It was in 1687 that he published his most acclaimed work, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), which has been called the single most influential book on physics. Newton was knighted in 1705 by the Queen Anne of England, making him Sir Isaac Newton.


Newton was born on January 4, 1643, in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, England. He was the only son of a wealthy local farmer, also named Isaac Newton. His father died three months before Newton was born.

His mother, Hannah Ayscough Newton, remarried a minister, Barnabas Smith, and went to live with him, leaving young Newton with his maternal grandmother when Newton was just three years old.

That experience left an enduring imprint on Newton, later making into an acute sense of insecurity.

At age 12, Newton was reunited with his mother after her second husband died. She brought along her three small children from her second marriage.


Newton was enrolled at the King’s School in Grantham, a town in Lincolnshire. He was pulled out of school by his mother, who wanted to make him a farmer. Newton felt farming monotonous, and in a failed attempt, he was sent back to King’s completing his primary education.

His uncle, who was a graduate at the University of Cambridge’s Trinity College, persuaded Newton’s mother to have him enter the University, perhaps sensing the young Newton’s innate intellectual abilities.

Newton enrolled in University in 1661. He studied classical curriculum there but was more fascinated by advanced science and also by the works of modern philosophers like René Descartes.

It was during this time that Newton kept the second set of notes, named “Quaestiones Quaedam Philosophicae” ( “Certain Philosophical Questions”). The “Quaestiones” reveal that Newton had discovered the new concept of nature that provided the framework for the Scientific Revolution. Though Newton graduated without honors or distinctions, his efforts won him the title of scholar and four years of financial support for future education.

In 1665, the bubonic plague was ravaging Europe and had come to Cambridge, forcing the University to close. Newton returned home and began formulating his theories on calculus, light, and color, his farm the setting for the supposed falling apple that inspired his work on gravity. After a two-year break, Newton returned to Cambridge in 1667 and was elected a minor fellow at Trinity College.


Newton’s first significant public scientific achievement was designing and constructing a reflecting telescope in 1668.

Replica of Newton's second reflecting telescope, which he presented to the Royal Society in 1672
Replica of Newton’s second reflecting telescope, which he presented to the Royal Society in 1672

The following year he received his Master of Arts degree and took over as Cambridge’s Lucasian Professor of Mathematics.

Through his experiments with refraction, Newton determined that white light was a composite of all the colors on the spectrum, and he asserted that light was composed of particles instead of waves.

The Royal Society asked for a demonstration of his reflecting telescope in 1671, and the organization’s interest encouraged Newton to publish his notes on light, optics, and color in 1672.

He was elected to the Royal Society in 1672 and published his notes on optics for his peers. These notes were later published as part of Newton’s Opticks: Or, A treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflections, and Colours of Light.

‘Principia’ and Newtons’ 3 Laws of Motion.

It was in 1666 that the plague had closed many public buildings and meetings. Newton had to abandon Cambridge. So, he returned to Woolsthorpe Manor, near Grantham in Lincolnshire, where he was born, to consider the astronomical problems he had been pursuing at the University.

Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica
(Credits: Wikipedia)

Well, as the myth suggests, an apple may not have struck Sir Isaac Newton’s head, but the falling of apple motivated Newton to ponder why the apple never drops sideways or upwards or any other direction except perpendicular to the ground—thus making him realize that Earth itself must be responsible for the apple’s downward motion.

It was during this 18-month hiatus as a student that Newton conceived many of his most important insights—including the method of infinitesimal calculus, the foundations for his theory of light and color, and the laws of planetary motion—that eventually led to the publication of his physics book Principia and his theory of gravity.

In 1687, Newton published Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), most often known as Principia.

Principia offers an exact quantitative description of bodies in motion, with three basic but essential laws of motion:

Newtons’ First Law

A stationary body will stay stationary unless an external force is applied to it.

Newtons’ Second Law

Force is equal to mass times acceleration, and a change in motion (i.e., change in speed) is proportional to the force applied.

Newtons’ Third Law

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Principia is said to be the single most influential book on physics and possibly all of science. Its publication immediately raised Newton to international prominence.

His work was a foundational part of the European Enlightenment.

Newton and the Theory of Gravity.

The Law of Universal Gravitation states that every point mass attracts every other point mass in the universe by force pointing in a straight line between the centers-of-mass of both points, and this force is proportional to the masses of the objects and inversely proportional to the square of their separation. This force always points inward, from one point to the other.

There was a conflict between Newton and Leibniz over finding calculus. Researchers later concluded that both men likely arrived at their conclusions independent of one another.


The death of Hooke in 1703 allowed Newton to take over as president of the Royal Society, and the following year he published his second major work, “Opticks.”A giant even among the brilliant minds that drove the Scientific Revolution, Newton is remembered as a transformative scholar, inventor, and writer.

In his later life, when asked for an assessment of his achievements, he replied, “I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself, I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself now and then in finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

Newton’s fame grew even more after his death, as many of his contemporaries proclaimed him the greatest genius who ever lived.


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