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Life Dates: 1642-1727 A.D.

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Sir Isaac Newton was an English physicist and mathematician who was described in his own time as a "natural philosopher" as scientists had been called since antiquity.

Now he is widely recognized as one of the most influential scientists of all time and a key figure in the scientific revolution, which can be thought to have started with the Newtonian Revolution.

His book, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, which was first published in 1687, laid the foundations for classical mechanics.

Also Newton made seminal contributions to optics, and he shares credit with Gottfried Leibniz for the development of calculus.

Newton's book, known as Principia Mathematica, (from the original Latin) formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation, which dominated scientists' perspective of the physical universe for the next three centuries (300 years) into the latter half of the 20th century.

By deriving Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion from his mathematical description of gravity, and then using the same principles to account for the trajectories of comets, the tides, the precession of the equinoxes, and other phenomena, Newton removed the last doubts about the validity of the Heliocentric Model of the Solar System.

The book, Principia Mathematica, also demonstrated that the motion of objects on Earth and of celestial bodies could be described by the same principles.

His prediction that Earth should be shaped as an oblate spheroid (instead of a sphere) was later vindicated by the measurements of Maupertuis, La Condamine, and others, which helped convince most Continental European scientists of the superiority of Newtonian mechanics over the earlier system of Descartes.

Newton built the first practical reflecting telescope and developed a Theory of Color based on the observation that a prism decomposes white light into the many colors of the visible spectrum.

Also he formulated an empirical law of cooling, studied the speed of sound, and introduced the notion of a Newtonian fluid.

In addition to his work on calculus, as a mathematician Newton contributed to the study of the power series, generalized the binomial theorem to non-integer exponents, developed a method for approximating the roots of a function, and classified most of the cubic plane curves.

Newton was a devout but unorthodox Christian who refused to take holy orders in the Church of England, perhaps because he privately rejected the doctrine of the Trinity.

Beyond his work on the mathematical sciences, Newton dedicated much of his time to the study of biblical chronology and alchemy, but most of his work in those areas remained unpublished until long after his death.

In his later life, Newton became President of the Royal Society and he served the British government as Warden and Master of the Royal Mint.

SOURCES = The Scientific 100 by John Simmons, Britannica Encyclopedia, and Wikipedia.

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