April 16 marks the day scientist Isaac Newton—314 years ago—officially became “Sir” Isaac Newton, meaning he was knighted for his accomplishments.
As a company that helps support science learning, we thought it would be fun to take a quick look at a handful of the scientific achievements that earned Newton his knightly reputation.
A colorful idea. In 1665, Newton experimented with sunlight and observed it as it passed through a prism. He saw that the white light of the sun spread out into seven colors—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Later experiments convinced him—and rightfully so—that the color of any object is the property of the light reflecting off of it, not a property of the object itself.
The ups and downs. The same year he began experimenting with light, Newton developed the beginnings of what would later become calculus. For the first time, scientists, mathematicians and engineers had an accurate way to figure slopes and curves—more accurate than algebra alone. It’s believed German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz also played a crucial role in developing the form of math.
On the move. Newton was the first to lay down principles that described how objects interact with each other—a revolutionary idea when he first published it in 1687. To this day, these three simple laws (listed below) still hold up and form the basis for classical mechanics.
- Every object in a state of motion will remain in motion unless an external force acts on it.
- Force equals mass times acceleration.
- For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
A heavy matter. In the same book Newton talked about his laws of motion, “Principia,” he described gravity as a universal force. He wrote that any two universal bodies attract each other with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance in between—that’s quite a mouthful! Although it was later replaced by Einstein’s theory of general relativity, Newton’s ideas did, for hundreds of years, help explain such things as the tides and the paths of comets.
A new way to see. In 1668, Newton built the first reflecting telescope—now known as the Newtonian telescope. The instrument used mirrors instead of lenses, making it much more powerful than other telescopes of the day. And it was a lot smaller, too. The design is still popular with amateur astronomers.
We hope you enjoyed these five Sir Isaac Newton fun facts. He played a crucial role in shaping science, engineering, math and the world.