“ I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me. “
These beautiful words belong to none other than the famous physicist, mathematician, and undoubtedly the greatest thinker of his era; Sir Isaac Newton. Born on 4th January, 1643, this legendary scientist played a very significant role in the scientific revolution. His contributions to Science are remarkable and nearly uncountable. He has enlightened us all with stunning results and Laws in all fields varying from mechanics to optics; he developed the whole of Calculus from scratch. Classical Mechanics, popularly known as Newtonian Mechanics, was born out of his three fundamental Laws of Motion. Newton was born the year Galileo died. Until then, everyone knew that the apple fell, but Newton was the one to ask, why?
Isaac Newton was a revolutionary thinker. His most famous contribution to Mathematics would be the use of ‘infinitesimals’ and the formulation of differential calculus. Although Gottfried Leibniz is also claimed to have developed calculus simultaneously and separately, the two scientists used different notations and definitions. The tangent and slope concept being used as the definition of differential calculus till today is Newton’s idea. He even extended the Binomial Theorem to fractional powers, and developed Newton’s Method for approximating roots of a function.
Newton published several books on Physics and Mathematics, with Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica and Opticks being two of his most significant contributions to Science. The former talks about the Three Laws of Motion as well as the Universal Law of Gravitation, which formulates one of the best and most essential equations of Physics.
A single equation explains everything from the fall of an apple to the ground, to the motion of the earth around the sun. It also elucidates Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion. The book contains a host of path-breaking discoveries like the theory of wave motion and the principles of fluid mechanics. Newton left no stone unturned, no topic unexplored. This is evident from his far-reaching formulations including Newton’s empirical Law of Cooling and the calculation of speed of sound. In addition to his work on the mathematical sciences, Newton also dedicated much of his time to the study of alchemy and biblical chronology.
A man of observation and experiments, Newton made significant contributions to the field of geometrical optics, by discovering the phenomenon of dispersion; the splitting up of polychromatic light into its constituent colours. Colours again! The role of colours in paintings and photography has already been discussed. That the roots of colour lie in a simple prism arrangement, we have only one person to thank for the enlightenment. Newton’s arrangement, the prism and inverted prism combination, results in the dispersion as well as recombination of light. This is how he explained that the colours were a property of light and not the medium itself, for the two prisms were identical. Newton went on to explore light, built a reflecting telescope, and gave a particle theory of light using classical mechanics. Although this hypothesis was discarded as incorrect upon arrival of Huygen’s wave theory, it was Newton’s assumption that inspired Albert Einstein centuries later, to formulate the Laws of Photoelectric Emission!
Newton was a great thinker, and although he opined against the Church in several of its views, he was never openly rebellious. In his words, “tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.” Newton’s cradle is a famous experimental setup to demonstrate elastic collisions. Classical mechanics and the explanation to macroscopic life at large, has been developed by a single man unmatchable. With Newton’s arrival in the realm of Science, the age of reason had dawned.