Institute and Museum of History of Science, Florence, ITALY

                      The main characters                   
Marin Mersenne (1588-1648) Isaac Newton (1642-1727) Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

Isaac Newton.

Isaac Newton, Principia mathematica (1687), frontispiece.

Born at Woolsthorpe, in the English county of Lincolnshire, after attending high school in Grantham, he was admitted in 1661 to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he began to study mathematics under the tutelage of Isaac Barrow. Gaining his Bachelor's degree in 1665, he was forced, the same year, to return to his home village, by the plague. There in the period 1665-1666, studying deeply the current state of research, he worked out the fundamental nucleus of all his most important future discoveries in mathematics and physics. He returned to Cambridge in 1667, and two years later took the chair of mathematics which had belonged to his master Barrow. In 1672, at the invitation of the Royal Society, he gave his presentation on the composition of white light. From 1679, he deepened his studies of dynamics and cosmology, which then became the draft of one of the most important works in the history of science, the Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (1st edn. 1687). After the publication of the Principia, Newton participated actively in public life, becoming an elected member of parliament, and taking on the post of Master of the Royal Mint in London. He was nominated as a member of all the major European scientific academies, and was made President of the Royal Society (1703) and a Baronet (1705). Newton became the most influential scientific personality in England. He died in 1727 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
The importance of the work of Newton in the history of science is fundamental. His studies provided the basis for the birth of modern optics, infinitesimal calculus, cosmology and mechanics, which is, in fact called "Newtonian".
In his work, Newton was able to unify, in a harmonious and organic synthesis, the terrestrial world with the celestial - he demonstrated that bodies which fell "naturally" on Earth and the motions of the celestial bodies obeyed one and the same great law - the law of universal gravitation.
At the roots of this impressive synthesis were philosophical presuppositions of a general reevaluation of time and space, both of which were qualified as "absolutes". "Absolute time" was, according to Newton, the indefinite duration during which successive events were said to happen, while "absolute space" constitutes the backdrop used to determine any physical phenomenon in the universe. In this sense, space was rethought as an infinite three-dimensional empty box which contained everything. An empty space was therefore, for Newton, not only permissible, but absolutely unavoidable for the construction of the new physics, representing "vacuumness" as the essential characteristic of the very notion of space.





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