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Sir Isaac Newton
Thesis Statement: Through his early life experiences and with the knowledge left by his predecessors, Sir Isaac Newton was able to develop calculus, natural forces, and optics.
From birth to early childhood, Isaac Newton overcame many personal, social, and mental hardships. It is through these experiences that helped create the person society knows him as in this day and age. The beginning of these obstacles started at birth for Newton.
Isaac was born premature on Christmas Day 1642, in the manor house of Woolsthorpe, 7 miles south of Grantham in Lincolnshire. It is said that “Because Galileo, . . . had died that year, a significance attaches itself to 1642” (Westfall 1). Though his father had died before Isaac was born, he was given his father’s name. He was born into a farming family that had worked their way slowly up the “social ladder”. The Newton’s were one of the few families to prosper in Lincolnshire (Westfall 1). At the age of three Isaac’s life would take a drastic turn.
When Isaac was three his mother, Hannah Ayscough, remarried to the Reverend Barnabas Smith (Internet-newtonia). Isaac and the Reverend never got along and the Reverend would not have a child that was not his living with him. Isaac stayed with his grandparents when his mother went to live with the Reverend in North Witham. His maternal grandmother raised Isaac until he was ten. It is believed that his mother’s second marriage and her leaving caused many problems for Isaac as a child. While living with his grandparents he attended day school nearby in Skillington and Stoke. Isaac was surrounded by many cousins and other family members in the surrounding area though, “He formed no bond with any of his numerous relatives that can be traced later in his life” (Westfall 11). In 1653 his mother returned after her second husband died. With her she brought one half brother and two half sisters. Although it is not known, bitterness may have inflicted Isaac when his three new siblings arrived. Never the less, two years later at the age of twelve he was sent to Grantham to attend grammar school.
While attending grammar school Isaac lived with the apothecary Mr. Clark (Westfall 12). Mr. Clark had three stepchildren from the first marriage of his wife, Miss Storer, who were also living in his house. In school and at home Isaac was apparently different and did not get along with any other boys. He was often in fights and remembered only one nice boy from school, Chrichloe. All the other boys seemed to hate him. He was more comfortable in the company of girls. He made doll furniture for Mr. Clark’s daughter. From this Isaac’s first and last romantic experience developed. “Indeed, as the two grew older, something of a romance apparently developed between him and Miss Storer” (Westfall 13). From doll furniture Newton moved on to other little machines. He used all the money his mother sent him to buy tools and filled his room with the machines. He fell in love with Mr. Clark’s library and would read as often as possible. At times he would spend so much time on projects that he would fall behind in school. When he realized he was falling behind all Isaac had to do was pick up his textbook and would immediately be caught up. Through his machines Newton became proficient in drawing and his inventions steadily became more elaborate. At the age of seventeen in 1659, Newton left Mr. Clark and had another life changing experience.
When Newton was seventeen his mother took him out of school and brought him back to the family farm. Trying to teach him how to run the farm and manage the estate was a failure. Newton would always bribe a hired hand to do the work he was supposed to. When he was supposed to be in town selling produce he would go to his old room in Mr. Clark’s house and read or play with his machines. In all of his spare time he returned to inventing and building machines. Newton’s uncle and old schoolmaster saw that he was in the wrong trade and urged his mother to prepare him to attend the University (Westfall 17). In 1660 he returned to Grantham to finish grammar school and prepare for the university. In June of 1661 Newton entered Trinity College, Cambridge (Internet-groups). While at Cambridge Newton studied mathematics (Internet-newtonia). This is when Newton first started to delve into the many discoveries he would soon be making.
Throughout Isaac Newton’s childhood and early adulthood he came in contact with many obstacles. Whether it was his mother leaving or his inability to socialize with his peers, Newton overcame the hardships that faced him. He was able to leave the family estate and trade behind in order to receive a better education. His intelligence is what separated him from everyone else. The ability he showed as a child was just the beginning.
Newton made most of his most important discoveries – pure mathematics, theory of gravitation, and optics – before he even graduated college. Although he learned geometry through school, he spoke of himself as self-taught. One of his earliest mathematical discoveries was the binomial theorm. “The binomial theorm gives a formula, or rule, as Newton called it, for writing down the expansion of any power of (1 x).” (Anthony 53) An example of this is as follows:
(1 x)^n = 1 nx n(n-1) x^2 n(n-1)(n-2) x^3 … nx^(n-1) x^n
This was an early attempt at understanding differentiation. “Newton made contributions to all branches of mathematics then studied, but is especially famous for his solutions to the contemporary problems in analytical geometry of drawing tangents to curves (differentiation) and defining areas bounded by curves (integration).” (Hall online) He discovered that they were inverse to each other. At the same time, he figured a way out to solve these problems with his method of fluxions and inverse method of fluxions. Fluxions are concerned with the rate at which the change occurs. The rate of change of a quantity indicates how the quantity is increasing or decreasing at a given time. The idea of “rate of change” is so important in the realm of engineering, where complicated changes in motion occur. The areas of surfaces, and volumes of solids almost always require these methods for their evaluations, as do also centers of gravity and moments of inertia. Even the modern study of aerodynamics and the science of hydrodynamics would be impossible without the principles of the calculus. One of the most valuable applications of the differential calculus may be found in problems involving maxima and minima. “Now it is known that the value of the differential coefficient at any point on the curve varies with the angle that the tangent at the point makes with the axis of x. In passing through a maximum or a minimum, the inclination of the tangent becomes zero, so that the pints of maxima and minima may be found by equating the differential coefficient to zero.” (Anthony 73)
By setting up these basic calculations, Newton paved the way to understanding the theory of gravitation. As far as the idea of universal gravitation is concerned, the essential work was done before Newton was twenty-four. In eighteen months, Newton wrote what is considered the greatest scientific work ever written. He called this book Philosophiae Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), which is usually known by the last two words. “In the book Newton codified Galileo’s findings into the three laws of motion.” (Wilson online) The first law of motion was called “the principle of inertia.” “A body at rest remains at rest and a body in motion remains in motion at a constant velocity as long as outside forces are not involved.” (Wilson online) The second law of motion was titled “motion defined in terms of mass and acceleration.” This was the first clear distinction between the mass of a body and its weight. He showed that mass was just resistance to acceleration; in other words, mass is the amount of inertia a body has. He also showed that weight was the amount of gravitational force between a body and an
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