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Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727)

Isaac Newton was born in Woolsthorpe, England in 1642, the year Galileo died.
His extraordinary mathematical ability and mechanical aptitude remained hidden
from others in his school life. In 1662, he went to Cambridge for undergraduate
studies. A plague epidemic in 1665 forced the university town to close and Newton
had to return to his mother’s farm. There in two years of solitude, his dormant
creativity blossomed in a deluge of fundamental discoveries in mathematics and
physics : binomial theorem for negative and fractional exponents, the beginning of
calculus, the inverse square law of gravitation, the spectrum of white light, and so
on. Returning to Cambridge, he pursued his investigations in optics and devised a
reflecting telescope.

In 1684, encouraged by his friend Edmund Halley, Newton embarked on writing what was to be one of
the greatest scientific works ever published : The Principia Mathematica. In it, he enunciated the three
laws of motion and the universal law of gravitation, which explained all the three Kepler’s laws of
planetary motion. The book was packed with a host of path-breaking achievements : basic principles of
fluid mechanics, mathematics of wave motion, calculation of masses of the earth, the sun and other
planets, explanation of the precession of equinoxes, theory of tides, etc. In 1704, Newton brought out
another masterpiece Opticks that summarized his work on light and colour.
The scientific revolution triggered by Copernicus and steered vigorously ahead by Kepler and Galileo
was brought to a grand completion by Newton. Newtonian mechanics unified terrestrial and celestial
phenomena. The same mathematical equation governed the fall of an apple to the ground and the
motion of the moon around the earth. The age of reason had dawned.
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