Describe the contributions and significance of Isaac Newton to science and Europe's understanding of the natural world in the Eighteenth Century?

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martinjmurphy | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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Sir Isaac Newton made important contributions to science in three areas: mathematics, optics and physics.  In optics, Newton showed that sunlight is actually made up of colored lights, that is, sunlight is made up of the colors of the rainbow.  He did this through the use of prisms.  This discovery led to Newton perfecting the telescope. In mathematics, Newton developed differential calculus.  This made it possible to calculate areas within a shape that had curved sides.  Perhaps Newton’s greatest discoveries came in the field of physics.  He came up with the law of universal gravitation.  Every object in the universe attracts every other object. This attraction is affected by two factors, the mass of the objects and the distance between them. He also came up with three laws of motion.  These discoveries completely changed how people had previously viewed the worlds and the universe.

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mrkirschner | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) was the most influential scientist of the 17th Century. He virtually invented the fields of physics and calculus, two subjects that, even in modern times, are quite challenging. When Cambridge closed down because of the plague, Newton developed some of the great theories in the history of physics. Consider Newton's Laws of Motion (1666), a staple of physics even today:

  • An object will remain in a state of inertia unless acted upon by force.
  • The relationship between acceleration and applied force is F=ma.
  • For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

He utilized these laws of motion to create theories on gravity that ultimately changed how scientists viewed the universe. He was able to explain the motions of the Sun and the planets in a groundbreaking fashion.

Isaac Newton's most accomplished work was the book Principia. In Principia, he broke down the mechanisms of the solar system through the use of equations. These equations explained the nature of orbits and the pull of gravity between heavenly bodies. He was able to explain to the world that the Moon orbits around the Earth because the Earth is substantially heavier than the Moon. This mass allows gravity to pull the Moon around the Earth and not vice-versa.


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