April 06, 2015

#04-001: Mr. Newton's Universe

Sir Isaac Newton

Note: What keeps us stuck to the earth? Sir Isaac Newton figured out exactly how this "glue" works! Find out what else he did!

Get Ready: If you hold something in mid-air and let go, which way will it probably travel? Why?

The English scientist Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) is justly famous. After all, not many people have had a universe named after them!

According to the Julian calendar, which England used at the time, Newton was born on Christmas Day. Although many countries were using the Gregorian calendar by the time he was born, England did not make the change until 1752. We use the designation "O.S." ("Old Style") to refer to Julian dates; "N.S." ("New Style") means Gregorian dates. So Sir Isaac was born December 25, 1642 O.S., and January 4, 1643 N.S.

His father, a farmer also named Isaac, died three months before the boy was born. Young Isaac was born premature, and was raised by his grandmother after his mother remarried when the boy was just three years old. (He despised his mother's new husband, and wrote in a journal that he had once threatened to burn them both "and the house over them"!)

As a young man, Newton may once have been engaged, but he never married. He studied Latin--but not mathematics--until age 17, when his now-widowed mother tried to get him to become a farmer--a job which he hated. He returned to school and became a top student, partly to overcome bullying by another boy.

Studying at Cambridge from age 19, he soon received scholarships and was able to complete a Master's degree, studying Aristotle as well as modern philosophers like Descartes and the astronomers Galileo and Kepler.

Among his many accomplishments, Newton is best-known today for several ideas. He discovered the mathematical study of change known as calculus (at the same time as the German scholar Leibniz discovered the same ideas independently) which he wrote about in his best-known work, the Principia Mathematica (1687).

Another field he studied was optics. Newton gave the names we use for the seven colors in the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.

But perhaps Newton is most famous for his work in gravitation. Legend says that the idea came to him while sitting under an apple tree--when an apple hit him on the head! As Newton himself told the story, he saw an apple fall and asked himself, "Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground"--that is, fall straight down--"Why should it not go sideways, or upwards? But constantly to the earth's center? Assuredly, the reason is, that the earth draws it." This observation inspired him to uncover the laws of gravity.

Interestingly, Newton was something of a mystic. He believed that, despite its natural and knowable laws, the universe was dependent on God at its root. It is ironic, then, that the mechanical view of the world came to be referred to as "the Newtonian universe," an idea that held until Einstein presented a new model in the 20th century.


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Newton

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. astronomers
  2. bullying
  3. designation
  4. despised
  5. gravity
  6. mechanical
  7. mystic
  8. optics
  9. perpendicularly
  10. premature

  1. like a machine; operating without intelligent choices being made
  2. person who has unusual, unscientific experiences of the "other world"
  3. being pushed around; being picked on
  4. people who study the stars and planets
  5. study of light
  6. at right angles to; straight up and down when compared to the earth
  7. too early; before the correct date
  8. the force that keeps us on earth
  9. hated
  10. name; description

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for April 6, 2015

This lesson received 10 visits on my old site between April, 2016, and August, 2021.

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. d; 2. c; 3. j; 4. i; 5. h; 6. a; 7. b; 8. e; 9. f; 10. g