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Isaac Newton

Did you know?

Isaac Newton was born on December 25, 1642 in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, England. He showed signs of an exceptional intelligence and solitary personality in grammar school, and he was admitted to the prestigious Trinity College in Cambridge in June 1661. Newton was from the beginning an independent thinker, moving beyond the standard curriculum, which focused mainly on classical Aristotelian philosophy, to study Descartes. Working almost entirely in isolation, Newton laid the groundwork of his theory of infinitesimal calculus, binomial expansion, laws of motion, theory of color, and theory of universal gravitation between 1664 and 1666.

In October 1669 he was named Lucasian professor of mathematics, but lectured very little in later years. Soon after, he designed and constructed the first reflecting telescope, which led to his election to the Royal Society in January of 1672.

Newton composed his masterpiece, the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (usually referred to as simply Principia) between 1684 and 1686. Edmond Halley, of comet fame, helped it into publication in 1687. Newton’s key insight that the same force of gravity felt on Earth also held the planets in their orbits around the Sun was developed there in detail. This provided a framework for the Laws of planetary motion discovered by Kepler, as well as many other phenomena including the orbits of comets. Newton also made numerous discoveries in the field of optics, especially with light and colors. His groundbreaking studies of the diffusion of light by a glass prism were begun as early as 1665 and described in full in his 1704 Opticks.

Newton was jealous of his ideas and inclined to resist contact with other European scientists. His difficult personality and territorial led to disputes with, for example, Robert Hooke and Gottfriend Wilhelm Leibniz. He became increasingly political later in life, serving somewhat dictatorially as the president of the Royal Society from 1703 until his death in 1727. In 1705 he was knighted for his achievements.

Isaac Newton died in Kensington on March 20, 1727, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.


High Altitude Observatory: National Center for Atmospheric Research.
"Isaac Newton," available from
Internet; accessed 8 December 2004.

The source of this material is the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). © 2002 University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. All Rights Reserved.



Portrait of Newton Alchemy - One of Newton's Passions
Brahe's Conception of the Universe Copernicus's Conception of the Universe
Description of the Comet in Rome, 1680 Calculating the Area Under a Hyperbola
Newton's "experimentum crucis" Newton's Telescope
Original Edition of Newton's Principia Original Edition of Newton's Principia


"If I have been able to see further, it was only because I stood on the shoulders of giants."
- Letter to Robert Hooke

"In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God's existence."
- Quoted in Des MacHale, Wisdom (London, 2002).

"I feign no hypotheses."
- Principia Mathematica.

Newton's epitaph:
"Who, by vigor of mind almost divine, the motions and figures of the planets, the paths of comets, and the tides of the seas first demonstrated.


  1. Isaac Newton Quotations - from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland
  2. Newton's Alchemy, Recreated - from Indiana University
  3. The Newton Project - electronic transcripts of Newton's manuscripts
  4. Newton's 3 Laws of Motion
    Universal Law of Gravitation
    Unification of Physics and Astronomy
    - from the Astronomy Web Syllabus at the University of Tennessee

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