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Sir Isaac Newton

Apple Of The Scientific Community


Sir Isaac Newton finally returned to Cambridge in 1667, where he spent the next 29 years. During this time, he published many of his most famous works, beginning with the treatise, "De Analysi," dealing with infinite series. Newton’s friend and mentor Isaac Barrow was responsible for bringing the work to the attention of the mathematics community. Shortly afterwards, Barrow who held the Lucasian Professorship (established just four years previously, with Barrow the only recipient) at Cambridge gave it up so that Newton could have the Chair.

With his name becoming well known in scientific circles, Sir Isaac Newton came to the attention of the public for his work in astronomy, when he designed and constructed the first reflecting telescope. This breakthrough in telescope technology, which gave a sharper image than was possible with a large lens, ensured his election to membership in the Royal Society.

The scientists, Sir Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke, and Edmond Halley began a disagreement in 1684, over whether it was possible that the elliptical orbits of the planets could be caused by gravitational force towards the sun which varied inversely as the square of the distance. Halley traveled to Cambridge to ask the Lucasian Chair, himself.

Sir Isaac Newton claimed to have solved the problem four years earlier, but could not find the proof among his papers. After Halley’s departure, Isaac worked diligently on the problem and sent an improved version of the proof to the distinguished scientists in London. Throwing himself into the project of developing and expanding his theories, Newton eventually turned this work into his greatest book, “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica” in 1686. This work, which Halley encouraged him to write, and which Halley published at his own expense, brought him more into the view of the public and changed our view of the universe forever.

Shortly after this, Sir Isaac Newton moved to London, accepting the position of Master of the Mint. For many years afterward, he argued with Robert Hooke over who had actually discovered the connection between elliptical orbits and the inverse square law, a dispute which ended only with Hooke’s death in 1703.

In 1705, Queen Anne bestowed knighthood upon him, making him Sir Isaac Newton. Another dispute began in 1709, this time with German mathematician, Gottfried Leibniz, over which of them had invented calculus. While it may never have been settled to the satisfaction of either man, it lasted until around 1716.

One reason for Sir Isaac Newton's disputes with other scientists was his tendency to write his brilliant articles, then not publish until after another scientist created similar work. Besides his earlier work, "De Analysi" (which didn't see publication until 1711) and "Principia" (published in 1687), Newton's other works included "Optics" (published in 1704), "The Universal Arithmetic" (published in 1707), the "Lectiones Opticae" (published in 1729), the "Method of Fluxions" (published in 1736), and the "Geometrica Analytica" (printed in 1779).

On March 20, 1727, Sir Isaac Newton died near London. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, the first scientist to be accorded this honor. Today, Stephen Hawking holds the Lucasian Chair.

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