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Isaac Newton (1642–1727)

The great plague of 1665 destroyed many lives—but it indirectly helped to a new world view. The plague caused Isaac Newton to retreat to his country home of Woolsthorpe for two years. In those two years he made his most important discoveries including calculus, his theory of colours and the law of Universal Gravitation.

Afterwards Newton returned to Cambridge. Newton's discoveries caused his reputation to grow, but he did not openly publish many of his results for some time. Increasingly through his life, Newton was secretive and jealous of his reputation. In fact much of his later life was spent in bitter disputes with his rivals over priority claims.

This did not help his relationship with other scientists, particularly those from continental Europe. Nor did the fact that, like Kepler, Newton was interested in alchemy. Newton's theories which are today seen as laying the foundation for a completely rational science were seen by many of his contemporaries as dangerously occult, involving mysterious forces that acted at a distance.

Nonetheless, Newton was soon recognised as a genius. Unfortunately Newton's reputation became so great, particularly in Britain, that even some of his less useful ideas like his clumsy mathematical notation were continued for too long.

Newton's later years were also spent in public office. He was elected to Parliament to represent the University, where his only recorded utterance is supposed to be a request to open the window. However, like many stories about Newton, this is probably a myth. Newton also became Master of the Mint, and President of the Royal Society of London. Apart from a bout of depression in 1692 Newton remained fit and healthy into old age, but died in 1727 after a painful illness, possibly gallstones.


Isaac Newton
magnifyIsaac Newton


Reflecting telescope
magnifyDiagram of Newton's relfecting telescope.
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