Isaac Newton: Who He Was, Why Google Apples Are Falling

Legend has it that Isaac Newton formulated gravitational theory in 1665 or 1666 after watching an apple fall and asking why the apple fell straight down, rather than sideways or even upward.

"He showed that the force that makes the apple fall and that holds us on the ground is the same as the force that keeps the moon and planets in their orbits," said Martin Rees, President of Britain's Royal Society, the United Kingdom's national academy of science, which was once headed by Newton himself.

"His theory of gravity wouldn't have got us global positioning satellites," said Jeremy Gray, a mathematical historian at the Milton Keynes, U.K-based Open University. "But it was enough to develop space travel."

Isaac Newton, Underachiever?

Born two to three months prematurely on January 4, 1643, in a hamlet in Lincolnshire, England, Isaac Newton was a tiny baby who, according to his mother, could have fit inside a quart mug. A practical child, he enjoyed constructing models, including a tiny mill that actually ground flour—powered by a mouse running in a wheel.

Admitted to the University of Cambridge on 1661, Newton at first failed to shine as a student.

In 1665 the school temporarily closed because of a bubonic plague epidemic and Newton returned home to Lincolnshire for two years. It was then that the apple-falling brainstorm occurred, and he described his years on hiatus as "the prime of my age for invention."

Despite his apparent affinity for private study, Newton returned to Cambridge in 1667 and served as a mathematics professor and in other capacities until 1696.

Isaac Newton: More Than Master of Gravity

Decoding gravity was only part of Newton's contribution to mathematics and science. His other major mathematical pre-occupation was calculus, and along with German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz, Newton developed differentiation and integration—techniques that remain fundamental to mathematicians and scientists.

Meanwhile, his interest in optics led him to propose, correctly, that white light is actually the combination of light of all the colors of the rainbow. This, in turn, made plain the cause of chromatic aberration—inaccurate color reproduction—in the telescopes of the day.


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