Born in England in 1643, Sir Isaac Newton could easily have ended up as a farmer instead of becoming one of the world’s greatest scientific minds. When his mother tried to convince him to become a farmer, he told her how much he hated it and begged to be allowed to continue his studies. His mother agreed, and eventually Newton went to Cambridge University where his love of mathematics grew.
Isaac Newton observed the world and the universe around him and tried to explain natural phenomena through mathematics. He developed a number of scientific laws using mathematical formulas that explain how things work.
His contributions to science and mathematics are many – these are just some of them:
- Newton’s laws of motions – These laws are fundamentally important in physics and explain what will happen to objects when they are pushed or pulled.
- Gravity – Newton asked himself why things fall down to Earth and not just fly off into space. He often explained gravity to people by using the example of an apple falling from the tree. He demonstrated that gravity is a force that is measurable and explainable through mathematics.
- Planetary motion - Newton linked universal gravitation to Kepler’s laws of planetary motion.
- Fluids – Newton studied fluids and measured how they moved by measuring their viscosity and finding predictable properties to fluids. Fluids that have such properties are called Newtonian fluids. (Fluids that don't have these properties are referred to as non-Newtonian fluids.)
- Optics – Newton studied how light was refracted through prisms and discovered that sunlight was a composition of all colours. He invented the refracting telescope.
- Mathematics – Newton’s contribution in this field was huge. Perhaps most famous is the development of integral calculus.
- Science practice – Newton found science to be disjointed and that often explanations were given that only explained one phenomenon but not another related one. He believed science should be predictable – that it should be governed by laws. He paid attention to the importance of the scientific method. He also recognised that scientists build on the works of each other. “If I have been able to see further, it is only because I stood on the shoulders of giants.”
Sir Isaac Newton died in 1726, leaving behind a legacy of scientific contributions that will see him as one of the greatest scientific minds of all times.
Nature of science
Sir Isaac Newton is an example of one of the most influential scientists. Closer examination of his work allows us to discuss what a scientific law is and provides a great way to examine the nature of science.