Sir Isaac Newton - Biographical Profile

What You Should Know About Sir Isaac Newton

This is an oil painting of Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), c.1726.
This is an oil painting of Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), c.1726. Enoch Seeman, Getty Images

Sir Isaac Newton is widely recognized as one of the most important scientists of all time. He is best known as a physicist, though he was also a great astronomer and mathematician. In his own time, Newton was considered a "natural philosopher", which is probably a more accurate description than trying to pin him to one science or another.

Here is a brief biography of Sir Isaac Newton, including his most significant accomplishments.

Nationality: English

Born: 4 January 1643 (Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, England)
Death: 31 March 1727 (age 84, Kensington, Middlesex, England)

Note: While Newton lived, Britain continued to use the old-style Julian calendar instead of the modern Gregorian calendar used in much of Europe. As such, Newton's British birthday was Christmas Day 1642, because of an almost 10-day disparity between the calendars. He died on the Gregorian date of 20 March 1727. The dates given above are using the modern Gregorian calendar.

Newton's final resting place is Westminster Abbey.

Isaac Newton's Major Physics Achievements

  • defined the law of gravity, verifying Kepler's laws of planetary motion and essentially ending the geocentric view of the universe.
  • defined the three laws of motion
  • enunciated principles of conservation of momentum & angular momentum
  • invented the reflecting telescope and defined a corpuscular theory of light
  • inventor of calculus (in parallel with Gottfried Leibniz) and applied it directly to the understanding of physical systems
  • formulated an empirical law of cooling
  • described the properties of a Newtonian fluid
  • wrote the Principia, which was published in 1687 and described the laws of motion, a type of calculus, and other theories

    Other Major Achievements

    • studied alchemy
    • known for the binomial method and Newton's method
    • member of Parliament of England 1689 to 1690, and in 1701.
    • wrote religious tracts, including some work disputing the Trinity.
    • became warden of the Royal Mint in 1696, oversaw the "great recoining," and became Master of the Mint in 1699, a position he held for the remainder of his life.
    • knighted in April 1705 by Queen Anne

    Interesting Facts About Sir Isaac Newton

    • Newton was born prematurely and was a small infant and child.
    • His father was also named Isaac Newton.
    • Newton's father died before his birth. His mother remarried, but Isaac did not like his stepfather and resented his mother's marriage. Isaac listed as one of his sins: "Threatening my father and mother Smith to burn them and the house over them."
    • His mother wanted him to become a farmer. When he got the chance to complete his education at Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, Isaac became the top-ranked student.
    • Newton graduated with a B.A. degree from Trinity College, which closed shortly afterwards for a time because of the Great Plague. He had not been a noteworthy student, but continued his studies at home. These led to the law of gravitation and theories in the fields of optics and mathematics.
    • Because Newton described invisible forces, some accused him of bringing the occult into science.
    • Newton died in his sleep as a bachelor. Newton's hair was found to contain traces of mercury. Exposure to the heavy metal might explain Newton's eccentric behavior near the end of his life.

    Edited by Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.