Newton, Isaac (1642-1727)

English physicist and mathematician who was born into a poor farming family. Luckily for humanity, Newton was not a good farmer, and was sent to Cambridge to study to become a preacher. At Cambridge, Newton studied mathematics, being especially strongly influenced by Euclid, although he was also influenced by Baconian and Cartesian philosophies. Newton was forced to leave Cambridge when it was closed because of the plague, and it was during this period that he made some of his most significant discoveries. With the reticence he was to show later in life, Newton did not, however, publish his results.

Newton suffered a mental breakdown in 1675 and was still recovering through 1679. In response to a letter from Hooke, he suggested that a particle, if released, would spiral in to the center of the Earth. Hooke wrote back, claiming that the path would not be a spiral, but an ellipse. Newton, who hated being bested, then proceeded to work out the mathematics of orbits. Again, he did not publish his calculations. Newton then began devoting his efforts to theological speculation and put the calculations on elliptical motion aside, telling Halley he had lost them (Westfall 1993, p. 403). Halley, who had become interested in orbits, finally convinced Newton to expand and publish his calculations. Newton devoted the period from August 1684 to spring 1686 to this task, and the result became one of the most important and influential works on physics of all times, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) (1687), often shortened to Principia Mathematica or simply "the Principia."

Source: Eric, Weisstein W. "Newton, Isaac (1642-1727)."

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