Isaac Newton is today remembered as the greatest scientific genius who ever lived. His discoveries about light, physics, and mathematics have changed the world.
Isaac was born on a cold Christmas Day in 1642 outside the English town of Woolsthorpe. His father died before his birth. His Mother was poor. She was afraid Isaac would not live through the harsh winter.
Isaac Newton survived the first few days. He grew into a healthy farm boy. The young Isaac Newton enjoyed making models of clocks, wagons, and windmills. His models actually worked. Doors opened, wheels turned, and sails spun. He made a miniature flour mill with a grindstone turned by the wind.
Isaac also made tiny lanterns of crinkled paper with a candle inside. On dark winter mornings, the lanterns lighted his way to school. At school, Isaac made his best grades in Bible class. At the time, England suffered through a bloody Civil War. The Bible gave Isaac the faith to look to the future. The Bible was his favorite book. He read it through time and again.
One morning in 1658, Isaac Newton awoke to a threatening sky. Dark, dangerous-looking clouds raced overhead. A few hours later a powerful storm swept across England. Isaac rushed outside to lead the animals into the barn and to bolt the doors. Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled. The wind howled and uprooted trees. Limbs flew through the air. The vicious storm frightened most people, but not Isaac. Its force fascinated him.
When Isaac grew older, he attended Cambridge University. He paid for his room and board by doing chores for his professors. He polished shoes, delivered messages, ran errands into town and served the professors their meals. Isaac studied theology and mathematics at Cambridge.
In 1665, terrible news interrupted Isaac's schooling. The Black Death--bubonic plague--struck London. As many as 10,000 people a month died. The Black Death spread to Cambridge itself. University officials closed the school for two terms. Students scattered to the countryside where they would be safe from the epidemic.
Isaac Newton fled to his mother's farm in the country. The forced holiday gave him time to think deeply about the unsolved problems of science. In good weather, he worked at a study table in the apple orchard.
Isaac explored a dozen different subjects, including light, astronomy, mathematics, chemistry, and physics. When he tired of one subject, he switched to some other unsolved mystery of science.
For instance, scientists were puzzled by the fact that bodies on earth and bodies in the heavens appeared to follow different laws. Imagine a ball rolling across a perfectly smooth and level table. It rolls forward at a constant speed in a straight line. It only slows because of air resistance and the friction between it and the table. The moon, like a ball on a flat and perfectly smooth table, keeps moving year after year without slowing. However, the moon does not travel in a straight line. Instead, it circles the earth.
Why did the moon not travel in a straight line?
Isaac Newton remembered the force of the wind. Although invisible, it turned his windmill. The force of the storm had uprooted trees. He concluded that a force acts upon the moon to bend its straight-line path into a closed orbit. What was the unknown force?
One day an apple fell from the tree overhead and banged onto Isaac's worktable in the orchard. He picked up the apple. As he held it, he noticed the moon, which had risen in the east.
Could it be, Isaac asked, that the moon and the apple are both subject to the same force of gravity? Isaac proved that gravity acts on both the apple and the moon He showed that earth's gravity extends far out into space and controls the moon in its orbit.
Isaac Newton returned to Cambridge where he taught mathematics. Working off and on for the next 20 years, he proved that all objects attract each other according to a simple equation. The sun, moon, planets, even apples and grains of sand are all subject to the law of gravity.
The law of gravity became Isaac Newton's best-known and most important discovery. Isaac warned against using it to view the universe as only some machine like a great clock. He said, "Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done."
As the years passed, people came to understand the importance of his many discoveries. Isaac received many honors. In 1705, Queen Anne knighted him, Sir Isaac Newton. It was the first knighthood for scientific discoveries rather than deeds on the battlefield or in government. When Isaac Newton died in 1727, the poor country boy from Woolsthorpe was buried in a plot reserved for a king.
Despite the fame as scientist, the Bible and not nature had been Isaac Newton's greatest passion. He devoted more time to Scripture than to science. He said, "I have a fundamental belief in the Bible as the Word of God, written by those who were inspired. I study the Bible daily."
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