Alberti, Leone Battista
Baif, Lazare de
Baliani, Giovanni Battista
Benedetti, Giovanni Battista
Borelli, Giovanni Alfonso
Cicero, M. Tullius
Foscarini, Paolo Antonio
Guevara, Giovanni di
Jordanus de Nemore
Marci of Kronland, Johannes Marcus
Monantheuil, Henri de
Monte, Guidobaldo del
Schreck, Johann Terrenz
Stelliola, Niccolò Antonio
Wolff, Christian von
born on 25.12.1642 (Julian calendar), 4.1.1643 (Gregorian calendar) in Woolsthorpe near Grantham, died 20.3.1727 (Julian calendar) 31.3.1727 (Gregorian calendar) in Kensington (today part of London)
In June 1661, Newton was accepted to Trinity College in Cambridge, where he was awarded the Bachelor of Arts in 1665. The official curriculum at the time can be characterized as antiquated Aristotelianism. In private studies he read many contemporary authors of his day, familiarized himself with Cartesianism and learned about Epicurus’ and Gassendi’s atomist theories. As a result he turned away from Aristotelism and became an atomist and adherent of mechanical philosophy.
Not until 1664 did Newton focus on mathematics. When the academic institutions at Cambridge were closed during the outbreak of the plague in 1665, he returned to Woolsthorpe, where he spent his most productive years. There he laid the foundations for his fluxion method (his form of infinitesimal calculus) and for his theory of light and colors. He studied the foundations of dynamics, the laws of impact and the forces of rotation, and applied his results to the movements of the moon and the planets, already pursuing the idea that the moon and the planets are held on their orbital paths around the sun by one and the same force.
In his work De analysi per aequationes numero terminorum infinitas (On Analysis of Equations with an Infinite Number of Terms), written in 1669 but not published until 1711, he formulates a general method for finding quadatures of complicated equations. In 1671 he wrote De methodis serierum et fluxionum (On the Methods of Series and Fluxions), but this was not published until 1736, after Newton’s death. In the 1670s he gave up the analytical calculation of fluxions, with which infinitely small quantities are calculated, in favor of a synthetic geometry of fluxions, which used limits (what were known as the first and last ratios of quantities) of sums rather than infinitely small values. He published this new form of fluxion calculation in Tractatus de quadratura curvarum (On the Quadrature of Curves) in 1704, after he had already described and applied it in Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (The Mathematical Principles of Physics) in 1687.
In the years 1665 and 1666 he performed his famous experiments with prisms to disperse white light and published his results in 1671/72, stating that white sunlight is not simply homogenous and white, but rather a mix of rays that are refrangible to various degrees, each of which is composed of corpuscles that evoke different colors when seen.
In October 1669 Newton took over the Lucas Professorship at Cambridge from his teacher I. Barrow. From 1675 he studied the interference rings discovered by R. Hooke in 1665, the colors of thin platelets and the diffraction of light. All of his important optical discoveries and theories were published for the first time in 1704 in his Opticks. This book was expanded considerably in later editions, and the fundamental physical questions raised in the section entitled Queris had a major impact on subsequent physical research.
Newton’s magnum opus, Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica, published in 1687, made a historically unique impact on the further development of the entire science of physics. In this work Newton laid the foundations that were adapted and transformed by later generations to develop what became known as Newtonian physics. In Book III of his Principia Newton formulates his general law of gravity for the first time. Using this law and the dynamic results from Book I he is able to explain the structure of our planetary system. The most spectacular result is the proof that the comets belong to our solar system because they orbit around the sun on elliptical paths, like the planets, except that the orbits of comets are extraordinarily eccentric. Newton attempted to corroborate many of his theoretical results with numerous experiments. In spite of its great scientific success, Newton’s physics did not easily supplant the Cartesian physics predominant at the time.
From 1672 Newton was a member of the Royal Society, whose presidency he held from 1703 until his death. Under his energetic leadership the Royal Society was rapidly restored to the high level of its founding years. From 1699 Newton lived in London, where he had been entrusted with superintendence over the Royal mint, which contributed considerably to his extraordinarily high social status in England. Ultimately he was considered to be THE leading representative of English science.
From his time at the university Newton also studied alchemy, leaving behind many alchemistic manuscripts that remain unpublished. The extent to which Newton was influenced by his studies of alchemy in the formulation of his general law of gravity is a matter of great controversy. In his later years he focused increasingly on theological studies. Even in his youth he was an Arian, a fact he always kept secret because of their persecution in the England of his day. His quite extensive theological works still remain unpublished. Even among his contemporaries, the extraordinary success of his physics led to intensive discussions about the philosophical foundations of his physics. His most famous opponent was G.W. Leibniz, with whom he also carried out a bitter conflict about who had discovered infinitesimal calculation first.
Newton was held in such esteem that he was the first scientist ever to be honored with a state funeral upon his death in London in 1727.