Isaac Newton

Born: January 4, 1643
Died: March 31, 1727
Birthplace: Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, England

A popular cartoon depicts a young Isaac Newton sitting under an apple tree when a piece of fruit falls and hits him on the head. The resulting bump on his noggin gives birth to the discovery of gravity, that thing that keeps all of us from spinning into space.

While there may have been an apple, there probably was no bump, and Newton's experimentation with the laws of gravity was just one of many areas of science where his research helped explain and define the laws of nature.

Newton was born prematurely in 1643, just three months after his father had died. As a youth he went away to school and stayed with a pharmacist, where his fascination with chemicals began. When he was 17, young Newton came home to farm. Luckily for the scientific world, he was a complete failure as a farmer and the family decided to send him to Trinity College.

For his first three years, Newton paid his way by waiting tables and cleaning up after the wealthier students. In his fourth year he was elected a scholar, giving him four more years of study for free. Unfortunately, this was the same time that the plague was sweeping through Europe. Due to illness and death, Trinity College was closed and Newton went home to continue his studies on his own.

It was during this time that Newton began to develop his theories of gravitation, and the discovery that white light was made up of a spectrum of colors, not a single entity. By using a prism, Newton was able to divide the light into the colors of the rainbow.

Newton suffered from depression for most of his life and had two major emotional breakdowns. Biographers say that may be the reason he was always reluctant to publish his work while he was alive.

The discovery, invention, and construction of a reflecting telescope was Newton's first real public achievement. Using tools he constructed, he made the mirror, constructed the tube and delivered the ground-breaking discovery to the Royal Society. By using a mirror, Newton was able to create a much sharper image than by using the conventional large lens.

Newton retired from research in 1693, moving on later to become the Master of the Royal Mint. Newton jumped into the ceremonial job with both feet. He led the mint through a period of recoinage and helped pursue and prosecute counterfeiters.

Queen Anne knighted Newton in 1705 for contributing more to the development of science than any other individual. Although a scientist, Newton also had a profound belief in God. He thought God was by necessity the source of all natural law, and that the divine power intervened when necessary to keep the universe on track.

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