Isaac Newton’s Greatest Achievements
In 1705, renowned English mathematician and physicist Isaac Newton was knighted by Queen of England Queen Anne. The Lincolnshire, England-born genius thus became the first scientist to be knighted. In terms of the achievements chalked by Newton, that honor was just the tip of the iceberg in his very impressive career.
Newton studied sight and the behavior of light by projecting a spectrum of light onto a wall. With his works in classical mechanics and optics, the English physicist became a very influential figure in the scientific community throughout the second half of the seventeenth century. Sir Isaac Newton’s contributions and inventions make him rank up there with the likes of Archimedes and Aristotle as one of the greatest scientists of all time.
What were the major feats that Isaac Newton was most famous for? Below is a quick presentation of his major achievements.
Isaac Newton is commonly held as the first scientist to discover calculus
For quite some time, there was a very heated debate in the scientific community as to who was the original developer of calculus, the mathematics that allows rates of change, areas or volumes within curved lines or surfaces to be measured. A number of scientists stated that the credit should go to German mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz since he was the first person to publish (in 1684) works on calculus. Although Leibniz independently developed calculus, it was later revealed that Isaac Newton had started working on the fundamentals of calculus more than a decade before Leibniz even published his works. Therefore, Newton can be considered as the first to develop the math.
At the time that he was coming out with Calculus, Newton, like many other mathematicians of his era and the past, did not have the math to handle motion of the planets and their elliptical orbits around the Sun.
Calculus, known back then as fluxions, is most useful for measuring continuous state of flux and varying rates of change interlaced with time. Classical geometry was insufficient to tackle those problems, including tangents to curves and lengths of curves.
Inventor of the first reflecting telescope
The refracting telescope was the dominant telescope during Newton’s time. The problem with the refracting telescope was that objects appeared a bit out of focus. The problem, which was known as the “chromatic aberration”, came as a result of glass lenses focusing different colors at different distances. Newton set out to solve this problem with his reflecting telescope. Instead of using mirrors, Newton deployed lenses in building his reflecting telescope in 1668. At six inches long, the reflecting telescope was the first of its kind. It was groundbreaking in the sense that not only did it magnify the objects by 40 times, but it also removed the colored fringes.
Newton’s contributions to chemistry
Sir Isaac Newton didn’t only devote his time to study mathematics and physics, but he is said to have studied chemistry as well. Driven by almost the ambition as the alchemists of his days, Newton went on a quest to find the very elusive formula that could turn base metals into gold. The English scientist burnt the midnight candle, going over many ancient books and texts in a bid to find the elixir of life, or some kind of medicine that could keep humans forever young and healthy. Although none of those goals of his materialized, Newton was still able to produce a number of works on acids. It’s been said that his works contributed immensely to the development of early modern chemistry.
Contributed immensely to the development of modern scientific method
Historians heap enormous praise on Isaac Newton for the contributions he made in the development of the scientific method that we use today. This was evident in a number of his papers that were borne out of well-structured and meticulously designed experiments. He would spend hours going over the results and then taking measurements. Often times, those results spurred on further experiments. While doing all that he also took to writing in his diary the steps that he used in conducting the experiments. Newton was absolutely aware of the benefits that could accrue from the rigorous scientific method he deployed.
President of the Royal Society (1703-1727)
His meteoric rise in the scientific world began after his invention of the scope, and subsequent presentation of it to the Royal Society. He also received a call up to the society following the invention of the scope. Newton worked alongside the likes of Robert Hooke, inventor and microscopist, Sir Christopher Wren, an architect, and British astronomer and mathematician Edmond Halley.
At the age of 60, Newton became the president of the Royal Society. He would serve the society for 24 years, until his death in 1727.
Seminal contributions to Optics
While a student at Cambridge (from 1661 to 1665), he developed a strong interest in the study of sight and the behavior of light. Newton, then 24 years old, began carrying out experiments on light. His goal was to push forward what the extant literature on the nature of light.
His pioneering works in light and colors were made known in his paper that was delivered to the Royal Society in the 1670s.
Newton’s seminal work in the mechanical nature of light allowed him to build some of the core pillars upon which modern science, particularly in the field of optics, stands on. The English scientist conducted experiments to discover the true nature of light by passing sunlight through a prism. Newton found out that white light was corpuscular in nature as well as being heterogeneous. In other words, the scientist and genius had discovered that light was made up of rainbow colors; and when those colors were separated, they could be merged to make white light.
Newton’s Three Laws of Motion
Perhaps Newton’s greatest work, the three laws of motion revolutionized our understanding of the physical environment. Not only do those three laws explain the movement of celestial bodies like the planets and their moons, but they also apply in so many areas of our lives, from the movement of spacecraft to even how a basketball moves in the air.
With those applications, Newton’s three laws of motion, which were compiled in his 1687 masterpiece Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), formed the pillar of modern science. The Principia is considered by many as the most important scientific work of the scientific revolution.
Newtonian mechanics, also known as classical mechanics, shed great insight on how planets orbit around the Sun; how the moons orbit their planets, and tidal waves. The laws remained dominant for about 2 centuries to explain outer space mechanics until Einstein’s theory of general relativity emerged in the early 20th century. Regardless, Newtonian mechanics remains very relevant when it comes to non-relativistic technologies and theories of our modern world.
He developed the Law of Universal Gravitation
Newton’s Law of universal gravitation and the three laws of motion basically explain how the universe works from a classical viewpoint. Also known as Newtonian mechanics (classical mechanics), Newton worked out the math to find out that the planetary orbits have an elliptical shape because of the Sun’s imposing gravitational force.
He went further to opine that the power of gravity is not limited to outer space. According to Newtonian mechanics, all particles of matter in the universe attract every other particle; thus, gravitational attraction is a property of all matter.
It’s been said that his motivation to continue working on orbital dynamics came after his colleague British astronomer and mathematician Edmond Halley (1656-1742). Halley, who would later publish Newton’s masterpiece Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) in 1687, visited Newton in 1684 to inquire about planetary orbits. Newton’s interaction with Halley encouraged him to continue developing his works on celestial mechanics, which in turn led to the development of the theory of gravitation and later the famous masterpiece the Principia.
Importance of Isaac Newton’s Principia
Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), also known as the Principia, is considered one of the greatest scientific works of all time. The book contained his groundbreaking three laws of motion, the law of universal gravitation, and the theory of calculus.
Most importantly, the Principia dispelled every remaining doubt concerning Kepler’s laws of planetary motion as well as the heliocentric nature of the Solar System.
Other accomplishments of Sir Isaac Newton
In 1705, Isaac Newton became the first scientist to be knighted. Unbeknownst to many people, Isaac Newton was actually knighted (by Queen Anne) not for his scientific accomplishments and inventions; instead the knighthood was given to him for his years of service to the public as the Warden of the Mint.
In 1665, in the same year that he graduated from Cambridge, Isaac Newton developed the generalized binomial theorem. The scientist’s goal was to use for any rational exponent.
Another significant contribution of Sir Isaac Newton to mathematics came in the form of the Newton identities, a mathematical application that is relevant in group theory, combinatorics, and Galois theory, among many others.
He developed a method to help mathematicians find the maximum or minimum of a function very quickly.
Sir Isaac Newton developed the theory of color by indicating that light could be seen as a source of color sensation. In other words, color as we see is the product of objects interacting with an already-colored light. When the rays of light hit the retina of the eye, it triggers the sensation of color. Therefore color comes from light.
From 1669 to 1702, he was the 2nd Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. He succeeded the inaugural holder Isaac Barrow (1630-1677), an English Christian theologian and mathematician.
Newton served as the Master of the Mint from 1699 to 1727. Prior to that position he was the Warden of the Mint for about three year, from 1696 to 1699. As the warden of the mint, he helped transfer England from the silver standard to the gold standard.
From 1703, Newton served as the president of the Royal Society up until his death in 1727.
More Sir Isaac Newton facts
- While teaching mathematics and physics at the University of Cambridge, he came up with a theory in mathematics called the infinitesimal calculus.
- He is said to have suffered emotional breakdowns on two occasions. The first one was in 1678. The second one occurred in 1693. Historians have stated that its likely that his emotional issues were made worse due to mercury poisoning he suffered while conducting alchemy experiments.
- Sir Isaac Newton’s masterpiece the Principia was published three times: 1687, 1713, and 1726.
- Newton’s “aha-moment” in the development of the law of gravity came while he saw an apple fall from a tree. Owing to the bubonic plague, which had forced Cambridge University to temporarily close, Newton headed to his family home, Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire, England. It was during this period that he is said to have first thought about the law of universal gravitation. As he saw the apple fall, he wondered why the apple fell straight to the ground and not in a sideway or upward direction.
- Sir Isaac Newton died in Kensington, London on March 31, 1727. The English scientist and pioneer of the Scientific Revolution was aged 84.
- He was buried in Westminster Abbey. He thus became the first scientist to be buried there.
- His theories in mathematics and physics, which many describe as elegant and intuitive, has contributed more to modern science than any other person’s in history.