R. Miller (artist), n.d., New York Public Library

Birthplace: Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire, Great Britain

Died: March 20, 1727
Sphere of Influence: Europe
Type of Leader: Intellectual, Scientific

Sir Isaac Newton revolutionized mathematical thought, founding the science of physics and the mathematical study of calculus. Building off the work of previous European scientists, Newton articulated the physical laws by which the movement of objects, from as minor as an apple to as major as a planet, occurred. Though he often found himself mired in controversy during his lifetime, he left a legacy as one of Western civilization’s most brilliant mathematical minds. His theories served as the foundation for the school of science known as physics for more than two centuries.

"If I have seen further than other men, it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants."

Isaac Newton’s early years did not indicate the greatness he would someday achieve. Before college, he proved to be a relatively weak student. His mother withdrew him from school so that he could run the family’s farm. Newton disliked farming. He therefore returned to education, this time at Cambridge University. At Cambridge his mathematical prowess caught the attention of a prominent mathematician. Newton became a teacher of mathematics at Cambridge, a position he held for 32 years.

Newton made his most remarkable intellectual contributions during his years as a math lecturer. Studying optics and light, he developed the first working reflecting telescope. He also posited that white light is really a mixture of all colors of the rainbow. Though widely accepted as fact today, this discovery led Newton into a vicious dispute with other scientific figures in England.

Newton’s most famous contribution to science came with the 1687 publication of his *Principles of Natural Philosophy*. In this book he outlined his three laws of motion, rules by which he could explain the workings of gravity, the movement of planetary bodies, and the change of the earth’s tides. His laws of motion became the basis of all study of physics until the arrival of Albert Einstein’s theories in the twentieth century.

After the publication of his most famous book, Newton turned toward politics. He served as a Member of Parliament from 1687 until 1693 and then from 1701 until his death in 1727. He also served as the official in charge of the mint of England. Later in life Newton found himself in controversy again with a German mathematician, Gottfried Liebniz, over which of them had invented calculus. Otherwise, he died as a man revered for his scientific achievements and service to England’s government.

Sir Isaac Newton, by using purely scientific terms to explain phenomena in the world, challenged classical thought.

Newton’s theories served as the foundation for two major schools of scientific and mathematic thought: physics and calculus.

- calculus
- heliocentric
- physics

- Edmund Halley
- Robert Hooke
- Christiaan Huygens
- Gottfried Liebniz

Anthony, Herbert D.

*Sir Isaac Newton*. London: Abelard-Schuan, 1960.Christianson, Gale E.

*In the Presence of the Creator: Isaac Newton and His Times.*New York: Collier Macmillan, 1984.Manuel, Frank E.

*A Portrait of Isaac Newton.*Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968.Wallis, Peter, and Ruth Wallis,

*Newton and Newtonia, 1672-1975: A Bibliography.*Folkestone, Kent: Dawson, 1977.Westfall, Richard S.

*Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton.*New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980.