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Isaac Newton (1642-1727)

Sir Isaac Newton was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian who is perceived and considered by a substantial number of scholars and the general public as one of the most influential men in history. His Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, published in 1687, is by itself considered to be among the most influential books in the history of science, laying the groundwork for most of classical mechanics. In this work, Newton described universal gravitation and the three laws of motion which dominated the scientific view of the physical universe for the next three centuries. Newton showed that the motions of objects on Earth and of celestial bodies are governed by the same set of natural laws by demonstrating the consistency between Kepler's laws of planetary motion and his theory of gravitation, thus removing the last doubts about heliocentrism and advancing the scientific revolution.

In mechanics, Newton enunciated the principles of conservation of both momentum and angular momentum. In optics, he built the first practical reflecting telescope and developed a theory of colour based on the observation that a prism decomposes white light into the many colours that form the visible spectrum. He also formulated an empirical law of cooling and studied the speed of sound.

In mathematics, Newton shares the credit with Gottfried Leibniz for the development of the differential and integral calculus. He also demonstrated the generalised binomial theorem, developed the so-called "Newton's method" for approximating the zeroes of a function, and contributed to the study of power series.

Newton remains influential to scientists, as demonstrated by a 2005 survey of scientists and the general public in Britain's Royal Society asking who had the greater effect on the history of science, Newton or Albert Einstein. Newton was deemed to have made the greater overall contribution to science, although the two men were closer when it came to contributions to humanity.

Newton was also highly religious, though an unorthodox Christian, writing more on Biblical hermeneutics than the natural science he is remembered for today.


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