Newton, Sir Isaac

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Newton, Sir Isaac

Sir Isaac Newton, 1642–1727, English mathematician and natural philosopher (physicist), who is considered by many the greatest scientist that ever lived.

Early Life and Work

Newton studied at Cambridge and was professor there from 1669 to 1701, succeeding his teacher Isaac Barrow as Lucasian professor of mathematics. His most important discoveries were made during the two-year period from 1664 to 1666, when the university was closed and he retired to his hometown of Woolsthorpe. At that time he discovered the law of universal gravitation, began to develop the calculus, and discovered that white light is composed of all the colors of the spectrum. These findings enabled him to make fundamental contributions to mathematics, astronomy, and theoretical and experimental physics.

The Principia

Newton summarized his discoveries in terrestrial and celestial mechanics in his Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica [mathematical principles of natural philosophy] (1687), one of the greatest milestones in the history of science. In it he showed how his principle of universal gravitation provided an explanation both of falling bodies on the earth and of the motions of planets, comets, and other bodies in the heavens. The first part of the Principia is devoted to dynamics and includes Newton's three famous laws of motion; the second part to fluid motion and other topics; and the third part to the system of the world, i.e., the unification of terrestrial and celestial mechanics under the principle of gravitation and the explanation of Kepler's laws of planetary motion. Although Newton used the calculus to discover his results, he explained them in the Principia by use of older geometric methods.

Later Work

Newton's discoveries in optics were presented in his Opticks (1704), in which he elaborated his theory that light is composed of corpuscles, or particles. His corpuscular theory dominated optics until the early 19th cent., when it was replaced by the wave theory of light. The two theories were combined in the modern quantum theory. Among his other accomplishments were his construction (1668) of a reflecting telescope and his anticipation of the calculus of variations, founded by Gottfried Leibniz and the Bernoullis. In later years Newton considered mathematics and physics a recreation and turned much of his energy toward alchemy, theology, and history, particularly problems of chronology.

Later Life

Newton was his university's representative in Parliament (1689–90, 1701–2) and was president of the Royal Society from 1703 until his death. He was made warden of the mint in 1696 and master in 1699, being knighted in 1705 in recognition of his services at the mint as much as for his scientific accomplishments. Although Newton was known as an open and generous person, at various times in his life he became involved in quarrels and controversies. The most notable was his dispute with Leibniz over which of them had first invented calculus; today they are jointly ascribed the honor.

Bibliography

An eight-volume edition of Newton's mathematical papers (ed. by D. H. Whiteside et al., 1967–81) has been published. See biographies by R. S. Westfall (1980), G. E. Christianson (1984), and J. Gleick (2003); J. Herivel, The Background to Newton's Principia (1965); A. Koyré, Newtonian Studies (1965); I. B. Cohen, Introduction to Newton's Principia (1971) and The Newtonian Revolution (1983); M. S. Stayer, ed., Newton's Dream (1988).

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Newton, Sir Isaac
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.