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Sir Isaac Newton

Galileo's Heir


Isaac Newton, English mathematician and physicist. English scientist and mathematician Isaac Newton's (1642-1727) discoveries were prolific and exerted a huge influence on science and thought.
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It was almost like handing over the reins, just eleven months apart. Galileo Galilei died at Arcetri, near Florence, on January 8, 1642. More than nine hundred miles away and eleven months later, Hannah Newton gave birth to a premature baby boy on Christmas day near Grantham in Lincolnshire, England. Named after his late father, Isaac, who died just three months shy of his son’s birth, the baby was quite small and not expected to live.

The boy who would become Sir Isaac Newton did survive, but before young Isaac’s third birthday, the young widow Hannah foisted her son off on her mother to raise, in order to remarry and raise a second family with Barnabas Smith, a wealthy rector from nearby North Witham. It is said that Newton hated his stepfather, with whom he never lived, and he was not unhappy at the rector’s death eight years later, which brought his mother and step-siblings back to him.

At the age of thirteen, young Sir Isaac Newton left to attend Grammar School in Grantham. Taking up lodging with the local apothecary, he was fascinated by the chemicals. His mother insisted that when he turned seventeen he would return and look after the farm. The problem with this plan was that Isaac made a terrible farmer.

Sir Isaac Newton’s uncle was a clergyman who had studied at Cambridge. He persuaded his sister that Isaac should attend the university, so in 1661 he went to Trinity College, Cambridge. During his first three years at Cambridge, Isaac paid his tuition by waiting tables and cleaning rooms for faculty and wealthier students.

The following year, he received the honor of being elected a scholar, which guaranteed four years of financial support. Before he could benefit, however, the university closed in the summer of 1665 when the plague began it’s merciless spread across Europe. Returning home, Newton spent the next two years in self-study of astronomy, mathematics and physics.

A legend of history has it that while sitting in his garden in Woolsthorpe in 1666, an apple fell on his head, producing his theories of universal gravitation. While the story is popular, and certainly has charm, it is more likely that these ideas were the work of many years of study and thought.

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