Most of us are familiar with Newton’s Laws of Motion. Most of us also know that these laws, as also gravity, were discovered by Sir Isaac Newton, the seventeenth century scientist. But, hardly anyone knows that Newton also discovered the nature of light. He discovered that white light is in fact made up of a spectrum of seven colours. Refraction, diffraction and the prism theory of light are part of his seminal work on optics. The reflecting telescope invented by him was one of the great innovations in his time.
Other glittering gems in a long list of achievements that are not common knowledge are his discovery of centrifugal force, centripetal force, Newton’s Law of Cooling and the movements of celestial bodies such as planets, comets and the moon. Collectively known as Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation, these discoveries laid the groundwork for all that has been achieved in the field of space science- yes, even the first landing of man on the moon can be attributed to Newtonian Physics.
Most of us don’t know that Newton was a prolific mathematician too. He invented Calculus- the basis of modern mathematics, the binomial theorem and a host of other mathematical innovations.
Newton’s work in Physics and Mathematics is easily the mainstay of all the subsequent discoveries and inventions made in the world of science and math by later scientists. In fact, Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity would never have taken shape, were it not for Newton’s Laws of Motion.
Newton’s discoveries and work in Physics and Mechanics was published in 1687, in the ground-breaking book Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), fondly called as Principia by physics lovers. This book is essentially the base of mechanical science. Newton’s work has influenced scientists of every generation and continues to do so till today.
His experiments and discoveries related to light were published in 1706, through the book Opticks. What the principia did for mechanics, this book did for the field of optics, fundamentally revolutionizing it.
Newton’s innovations are not restricted only to the field of science. He revolutionised the world of currency too.
In 1696, Newton was appointed warden of the Royal Mint. His task was to stop counterfeiting, rampant in those days. In order to beat counterfeiting, Newton recalled all English coins, had them melted down and remoulded into a hard-to-counterfeit design. Newton introduced ridges on the edge of the coins, called milled edges, to prevent them from being counterfeited- an innovation that has stood the test of time. These milled edges are a standard feature on coins even today. He also shifted the British pound from silver to the gold standard, thereby changing the course of world currency infinitely.
Is it any wonder that Sir Isaac Newton is considered the greatest genius to ever have walked Earth? He is regularly voted as the most influential scientist of all time, beating Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison. In recognition of his contribution to furthering the cause of Physics, Isaac Newton was knighted by Queen Anne in April 1705, in London.
English poet Alexander Pope summed up the power of Newton’s accomplishments fittingly when he wrote-
Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night;
God said “Let Newton be” and all was light.