History-makers Part 27: Isaac Newton
Compiled by Chris Taylor
Profession: pioneering scientist
Famous for: a number of groundbreaking discoveries about the laws of the universe
An enlightened mind
Find words that mean: lived in the house of, was called for, a disease spread by the fleas of rats, unable to read
Newton was born three months after his father's death. His father was an illiterate farmer. When Newton was three, his mother remarried. He did not like his stepfather. He was brought up by his grandmother. He went to King's School, about 11 kilometres from his hometown. He lodged with an alchemist, or chemist.
When his mother's second husband died, the young Newton was summoned home from school to manage the family farm. He hated farming, and some people say he deliberately did a bad job. The principal of King's School persuaded his mother to allow him to go back to study.
In 1661, Newton entered Trinity College at Cambridge University. He became fascinated by mathematics and spent most of his time privately studying it. He was also interested in optics, the study of light.
In 1665-6, Newton's formal studies were interrupted by the plague. He continued to study alone. He founded the basics of calculus and proved that white light was actually made up of many colours.
In 1666, Newton saw an apple fall from a tree. This started 20 years of thinking that led to the development of his Theory of Universal Gravitation.
The force of gravity
Find words that mean the opposite: repelled from, unknown, dampened, persisted in
Although the famous story about Newton seeing an apple fall from a tree and wondering if there was a general theory of gravity is probably true, he did not really understand gravity for another 20 years.
He made a lot of false starts. For example, he tried to test his theory using the moon and the earth. The problem was he did not know the mass of either. He miscalculated and gave up his research.
Fifteen years later, a scientist called Robert Hooke wrote to Newton. He couldn't prove it, but he thought that all bodies had a gravitational force. This ignited Newton's interest in the subject again.
To everybody's amazement, Newton was able to prove mathematically what nobody had before: every object in the universe is attracted to each other.
A well-rounded student
Fill in the blanks: poisonous, Christian, throughout, experiments, breakthroughs
Although Newton was famous for his scientific __________________, he was interested in many other things. He was a very religious man and spent many years studying the Bible. But the more he studied different translations, the more he began to think a lot of it did not make sense.
When he died, he refused the sacrament - a ceremony performed by a priest for someone who is dying. He had not stopped being a __________________ but he had decided that a lot of the Church's teachings were not right.
He also studied alchemy _________ his life. It was something that had interested him ever since he was a boy and lived with an alchemist. For a long time, people thought that this an odd thing to do. But now most experts think he learned a lot from his _____________.
When Newton died, doctors found he had a lot of mercury in his body. Doctors at that time thought the liquid metal could cure diseases. Actually, mercury is ____________. Too much exposure to it makes people mad.
True or false?
To test your memory, try answering without referring to the text. If you can't remember
the details, read the piece again.
1 Newton's father was a mathematician.
2 Newton discovered that white light is made of many colours.
3 Newton discovered alchemy.
4 Newton discovered the moon.