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Isaac Newton was born on January 4, 1642, in Lincolnshire, England. Newton’s father, Isaac Newton who was a farmer, died 3 months before Newton was born. Newton was not expected to survive because he was born tiny, weak and feeble, but however he did, when he was 3 years old, his mother, Hannah Ayscough Newton, remarried a minister named, Barnabas Smith, and went to live with him, and left Newton with his grandmother. This experience later gave him insecurity. At 12 years old Newton’s mother came back and along with her 3 other children from her second marriage because he died. Newton attended school at the King’s School in Grantham, Lincolnshire, where he stayed with a local apothecary and was introduced to the world of chemistry. Newton was also taken out of school at 12 yrs. old by his mother, who wanted him to become a farmer and run the farm. Newton was not good at farming and failed at it so his mother put him back in school at King’s School to finish his basic education. Newton’s uncle knew that Newton was smart but he just has not been challenged intellectually so his uncle convinced Newton’s mother to send Newton to the University of Cambridge’s Trinity College when Newton’s uncle was a graduate from. In 1661, Newton joined a work-study program, in this program, he would wait tables and took care of the wealthier students’ rooms.
When Newton attended Cambridge in the 17th century, the Scientific Revolution was already in effect. The different views of the universe theorized by the astronomers Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, and Galileo was already well known in most European academic curriculums. Like most universities in Europe, Cambridge was mainly interested in Aristotle’s philosophies and a view of nature. During Newton’s first three years at Cambridge, he was taught the standard curriculum but he was fascinated with the more advanced science. In all his spare time he used it to read modern philosophy books. During this time Newton kept a set of notes, entitled “Quaestiones Quaedam Philosophicae” (“Certain Philosophical Questions”). The “Quaestiones” reveal that Newton had discovered a new concept of nature for the Scientific Revolution. Though Newton graduated without honors his work won him the title of a scholar and four years of financial support for his future education.
In 1665, the Great Plague that was rampant in Europe had come to Cambridge, forcing the university to close. After a two-year break, Newton returned to Cambridge in 1667 and was elected a minor fellow at the Trinity College, Newton was still not considered a scholar. In the next couple of years, his luck got better, in 1669 Newton received his Master of Arts degree. Newton quickly wrote an exposition and shared this with his friend and mentor Isaac Barrow, but didn’t include his name as the author. In June 1669, Barrow shared the unauthorized manuscript with British mathematician John Collins. In August 1669, Barrow identified its author to Collins as “Mr. Newton, an extraordinarily young genius with adroitness in science. This was the first time Newton’s work was brought to the attention of the mathematicians. Shortly after this, Barrow decided to quit his job at Cambridge, and Newton took Barrow’s job.
Newton began to study on light and not everyone at the Royal Academy was enthused about Newton’s discoveries in light and his publication of the book, Opticks: Or, A treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflections, and Colors of Light in 1704. Among those who did not like Newton’s discoveries was Robert Hooke, one of the original members of the Royal Academy and a scientist who accomplished many things in his life in different areas. Newton theorized that light was composed of particles, Hooke believed that light was composed of waves. So Hooke condemned Newton’s paper in condescending ways and attacked Newton’s theories, work, experiments, process, and conclusions. However Hooke was not the only one to question Newton’s work in light, a Renowned Dutch scientist, Christiaan Huygens, and many French Jesuits also did not agree with Newton’s theories. But because of Hooke’s association with the Royal Society and his own work in light, Hooke’s criticism hurt Newton the worst. Newton was unable to handle Hooke’s critique, he became mad, his reaction to Hooke’s criticism was to continue throughout his life. Hooke claimed that Newton’s theories had shortcomings and argued the importance of his discoveries to all of science. Months later, the exchange between the two men grew more acrimonious, and Newton was beginning to consider quitting the society for good. He remained only because several other members assured him that other people and members believe in him and held him in their favor.
Newton and Hooke’s rivalry continued for several years. The next was not the best year for Newton because his mother died this caused him to become even more isolated, and for six years he withdrew from intellectual exchange except when other people talked to him but even with that he kept the conversation short. During Newton’s isolation from public life, he returned to his study of gravitation and its effects on the orbits of planets. The motivator that put Newton on the right direction in this study came from Robert Hooke, in 1679 a letter of general correspondence was written to The Royal Society members for contributions by Hooke. Hooke wrote to Newton and brought up the question of planetary motion, suggesting that a formula is a need that involves the inverse squares might explain the attraction between planets and the shape of their orbits. Newton solved the problem 18 years ago during his break from Cambridge and the plague, but he was unable to find his notes. One of Newton’s friends persuaded him to work out the problem mathematically and offered to pay at all costs so that the ideas might be published, which it was, in Newton’s book Principia, published in 1687.
After the publication of Principia, Newton was ready for a new direction in his life because he did not find happiness in his position at Cambridge, he became more involved in other issues. He helped lead the resistance to King James II’s attempts to restart Catholic teaching at Cambridge, and in 1689 Newton was elected to represent Cambridge in Parliament. While in London, he got to meet a group of intellectuals and became acquainted with a political philosopher by the name of John Locke. A young generation of British scientists became interested in Newton’s new view of the world and put him as their leader. One of Newton’s followers was a friend who was a Swiss mathematician that he met while he was in London, Nicolas Fatio de Duillier.
In 1696, Newton was able to attain the governmental position he had long sought: warden of the Mint; after achieving this new title, he moved to London and lived with his niece, Catherine Barton. She was the mistress of Lord Halifax, a high-ranking government official who gave Newton the promotion, in 1699, to the master of the Mint—a position that he held until his death. Not wanting it to be considered a mere honorary position, Newton approached the job in earnest, reforming the currency and severely punished those who counterfeited money. As master of the Mint, Newton moved the British currency, the pound sterling, from the silver to the gold standard.
In 1703, Newton was elected president of the Royal Society after Robert Hooke’s death. By most accounts, Newton’s time at the society was tyrannical and autocratic; he was able to control the lives and careers of younger scientists for better or for the worse. In 1705, in a controversy that had been contemplated for several years was brought up by German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz who publicly accused Newton of plagiarizing his research, claiming he had discovered infinitesimal calculus several years before the publication of Principia. In 1712, the Royal Society appointed a committee to investigate this matter. Since Newton was president of the society, he was able to appoint the committee’s members to oversee the investigation.
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