We have experienced the pandemic caused by the Coronavirus. The lockdown and staying at home helped many in different ways. Did you know that a similar lockdown during the 17th century Great Plague gave the world Isaac Newton?

Isaac Newton was born three months after the death of his father, who also had the same name. His mother remarried and had three more children. Newton disliked his stepfather and was therefore looked after by his maternal grandmother. Newton was educated at The King’s School, Grantham.

Seven colours of light

When Newton’s mother lost her second husband, she wanted him to take up farming to provide for the family. However, his school teacher, Henry Stokes, persuaded his mother to send him back to school to finish his education. Motivated by a desire to take revenge against a bully at school, Newton studied hard and became the top-ranked student. Perhaps one could argue that the science world should thank the bully for indirectly contributing to Newton’s achievements. In June 1661, Newton enrolled at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Statue of Newton in Oxford

After having to do odd jobs at the university for his meals, Newton was awarded a scholarship in 1664, ensuring him four more years until he could obtain his MA. He earned his BA degree in August 1665, but soon after, the university closed temporarily due to the Great Plague.

During the following two years of the pandemic, Newton conducted private studies at his home in Woolsthorpe, where he developed his theories on calculus, optics, and the law of gravitation. When the university reopened in April 1667, he resumed his MA studies. His academic prowess impressed Professor Isaac Barrow, and by 1669, just one year after receiving his MA, Newton succeeded Barrow as the master of Trinity College. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1672, established by King Charles II.

Isaac Newton, a physicist and mathematician, profoundly influenced modern physics with his development of the laws of motion, earning him a place among the great minds of the 17th-century Scientific Revolution. His break from Cambridge University during the Great Plague pandemic allowed him to begin developing theories on light, calculus, and celestial mechanics. It was during this period at Woolsthorpe that he famously observed an apple fall from a tree. Newton’s contemplation of why apples always fall straight to the ground, rather than sideways or upward, inspired his eventual formulation of the law of universal gravitation.

In 1687, Newton first published his principle of universal gravitation in his landmark work, the “Principia.” This principle states that every body in the universe is attracted to every other body with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. The “Principia” also features his three laws of motion.

Newton was knighted by Queen Anne in 1705 and spent the last three decades of his life in London, serving as Warden and Master of the Royal Mint. Additionally, he served as president of the Royal Society for 24 years.

One of Newton’s most famous discoveries involves the nature of light and colour. Newton conducted a series of experiments with prisms in his home in Woolsthorpe, demonstrating that white light is composed of a spectrum of colours. Newton’s work on light and colour was revolutionary, disproving the prevailing theory that white light was pure and that colours were modifications of light caused by interaction with objects. Instead, he showed that colours are inherent properties of light itself.

Newton died in his sleep in London on 20th of March 1727. He was buried in Westminster Abbey. Newton never married.