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Newton, Sir Isaac (1642 1727) Essay

1196 words - 5 pages

Isaac Newton's life can be divided into three quite distinct periods. The first is his boyhood days from 1643 up to his appointment to a chair in 1669. The second period from 1669 to 1687 was the highly productive period in which he was Lucasian professor at Cambridge. The third period (nearly as long as the other two combined) saw Newton as a highly paid government official in London with little further interest in mathematical research.Isaac Newton was born prematurely on Christmas day 1642 (4 January 1643, New Style) in Woolsthorpe, a hamlet near Grantham in Lincolnshire. His Father died only three months before he was born (also named Isaac), the fatherless infant was small enough at birth to fit 'into a quartpot.' When he was three years old Isaac's mother, Hanna, placed him with his grandmother so that she could remarry and raise a second family with Barnabas Smith, a wealthy man from nearby North Witham. Until Hanna returned to Woolsthorpe in 1653 after the death of her second husband, Newton was denied his mother's attention, a possible clue to his complex character. Newton's childhood was anything but happy.When his mother returned to Woolsthorpe in 1653, Newton was withdrawn from school to fulfill his birthright as a farmer. Some say he was happy to fail at it, and returned to King's School at Grantham to prepare for entrance to Trinity College, Cambridge. A turning point in Newton's life came in June 1661 when he left Woolsthorpe for Cambridge University. Newton entered his uncle's old College, Trinity College Cambridge, on 5 June 1661. He was older than most of his fellow students but, despite the fact that his mother was financially well off, he entered as a sizar. A sizar at Cambridge was a student who received an allowance toward college expenses in exchange for acting as a servant to other students. There is certainly some ambiguity in his position as a sizar, for he seems to have associated with "better class" students rather than other sizars. Here Newton entered a new world, one he would eventually call his own.Although Cambridge was an outstanding center of learning, the spirit of the scientific revolution had yet to penetrate its ancient and somewhat ossified curriculum. In 1665 Newton took his bachelor's degree at Cambridge without honors or distinction. Since the university was closed for the next two years because of plague, Newton returned to Woolsthorpe in midyear. There, in the following 18 months, he made a series of original contributions to science. As he later recalled, 'All this was in the two plague years of 1665 and 1666, for in those days I was in my prime of age for invention, and minded mathematics and philosophy more than at any time since.' In mathematics Newton conceived his 'method of fluxions' (infinitesimal calculus), laid the foundations for his theory of light and color, and achieved significant insight into the problem of planetary motion, insights that eventually led to the publication of his...

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