Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) was a mathematician, physicist, alchemist and philosopher. Gravity, optics and calculus are among his fields of original study. He is known as one of the most important and influential individuals in the history of science.
Newton was one of the first true scientists as we would recognise them today. Like many of these early scientists, who studied the field that was then called Natural Philosophy and before the traditional distinctions of science developed, his interests were varied. He is best known for his work in mathematics (pretty much inventing calculus), astronomy (pretty much inventing the theory of gravity) and physics (pretty much laying down everything to do with classical mechanics). Newton was perhaps the most brilliant mathematician working in Britain at the time, and in 1669 he was elected as the second Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, a post that would later be held by Stephen Hawking. His most famous work, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica is considered to be one of the most influential scientific texts of all time and a 2005 survey by the Royal Society put him above Einstein in a measure of who had the biggest contribution to physics. However, these accolades and amazing achievements were mixed in with some frightening bouts of near insanity.
John Maynard Keynes described Newton as not the first of the rationalists, but rather the "last of the magicians" due to his obsession with alchemy. Indeed, discovering the nature of optics was probably a side effect of trying to turn lead into gold. He also tended to do a lot of weird stuff, such as staring directly at the sun for hours on end and jabbing objects into his eyes as part of his interest in optics. His ragged and insane appearance while at Cambridge often lead him to lecture to nearly empty rooms as people just refused to turn up (a situation well known to modern college professors at 9 am). Newton was famously difficult to get along with, saving much of his abrasiveness for Robert Hooke, who may have been the subject of the "standing on the shoulders of giants" quote, in reference to Hooke's apparent short and hunchback appearance. His bizarre eccentricity and foul personality (that was more prominent in, but not restricted to, his later life) has been attributed to mercury poisoning from his alchemy. Others have attributed it to the possibility of him having Asperger's Syndrome. Or maybe he was just a jerk.
 Religious studies
As was common at the time, Newton also devoted much time to biblical scholarship, alchemy and other theological questions. Newton was a reclusive man and almost asexual, or possibly gay. He was also Arian in his religious beliefs. He stood up to James II's attempt to appoint a Roman Catholic monk named Alban Francis to an academic post at Cambridge and the appointment was stopped. Stephen Hawking has criticised Newton for this as an example of religious intolerance ("A Brief History of Time"). However it is to be borne in mind that the Roman Catholic Church had burnt Giordano Bruno for heresy, mostly on account of his Arianism (i.e.the belief that Jesus Christ was of similar not same substance to and created by God.) and that this appointment was the thin end of the wedge, leading to similar persecution that had stifled scientific inquiry in Catholic countries after Galileo. In his own lifetime, Newton wrote more on religion than he did on natural science.
 Isaac Newton, P.I.
Newton's day job was as Master of the Royal Mint, during which time he tracked down a notorious forger named William Chaloner, who was acting as a provocateur to implicate Roman Catholics in plotting against the state and then turning them in for a cash reward. He failed in the first prosecution but convicted him the second time around (resulting in his being hanged, drawn and quartered).
 Legacy and criticism
Newton's famous phrase "If I have seen further than others, then it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants" and the story that the idea of gravity came to him watching an apple fall have to be understood in relation to his enmity with Robert Hooke, the greatest experimental scientist of his age. The term "gravity" had been coined by Hooke, especially in relation to planetary motion, and he even tried to measure it experimentally, before Newton even mentioned it. Thus it is likely that his inspiration for gravity came from the seven pages of notes he took from Robert Hooke's work than from observing falling apples. Newton - being well known as one of the most aggravating personalities in science as well as one of the biggest brains - expunged all references to Hooke's work from his publications, and it's said that the reason that there are no surviving portraits of Hooke is because Newton destroyed them all. Legend has it that Newton's "shoulders of giants" phrase was a dig at Hooke, because Hooke was short.
In his later years, Newton's desperation to solve many of the mysteries of physics led him to introduce invisible and unfalsifiable (a.k.a supernatural) elements into his theories, the foundations of the idea of the Ether, which earned him much criticism from his colleagues.
Like pretty much everyone that lived before the immense age of the Earth was realised in the 19th Century, Newton was a creationist, taking the Bible as the best scholarship on the origins of the universe. Modern creationists use him to justify their views - though they tend to ignore the occultism and that he lived hundreds of years before Darwin and other Victorian scientists. It almost goes without saying that this is just an argument from authority, after all, he also was a great believer in alchemy but modern chemists don't defer to him on the subject.
 College bowl question
He also held a very serious dispute (probably the most heated one in the history of science) with Leibniz over the development of calculus. There was dissent among scientists over who developed it first. Leibniz took this matter to the Royal Society to act as a mediator and investigate the dispute, however, the president of the Royal Society (Newton himself) made sure the reports went in Newton's favour. It is now known that Newton invented calculus before Leibniz, but published his work later.
The answer, if you are ever in one of these college bowl game show things, to the question "who invented the calculus?", is now generally accepted to be: "Newton and Leibniz, simultaneously and independently." 
He is also credited with the invention of the cat door, although it is probably not true.
 Famous quotes
“”If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.
“”I do not define time, space, place, and motion, as being well known to all.
“”We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.
“”To every action there is always opposed and equal reaction.
 See also
- Law of Universal Gravitation
- Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica
- The Fellowship, by John Gribbin
- ↑ There's a well-known controversy that Gottfried Leibniz was the actual inventor of calculus. Newton said that Leibniz' calculus was "derivative"
- ↑ Cambridge University Library - Isaac Newton at work
- ↑ St. Cathrine Standard:Examining the non-sexual
- ↑ One of our editors is really into Hooke, in case you haven't noticed.
- ↑ A Brief History of Time
- ↑ Invoking quantum physics is also acceptable, but only if you bring a cat in a box.
- ↑ Link