# Isaac Newton: Alchemist and scientific revolutionary

In our last article on great thinkers, we examined the accomplishments of Richard Feynmann, the Manhattan project alumni, bongo-playing, girlfriend stealing (surely you are joking Mr. Feynmann!) revolutionary thinker who won the Nobel Prize for his contribution to Quantum Electrodynamics (or to the layman – the complete theory of how electrons and photons lead to the electromagnetic force). Today we are taking it back to the old school, to a time that predates our modern notions of warped space time and quantum cats to a period of time where the universe seemed simpler and was though to obey more deterministic laws.

Isaac Newton remains one of the most influential figures in the realms of physics and mathematics. His profound contributions to science revolutionised our understanding of the physical world, setting the stage for centuries of scientific progress. He famously said that he had seen further by standing on the shoulders of giants. He paved the way and provided the sturdy shoulder base for Einstein to come along a few centuries later and rethink his theory of gravity. Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself…

Born on January 4, 1643, in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, England, Isaac Newton came into a world undergoing social and political turmoil. His early years were marked by personal challenges, including the absence of his father, who passed away before Newton's birth. Raised by his grandmother, Newton developed an insatiable curiosity and a keen interest in understanding the natural world.

Newton's brilliance became evident during his studies at the University of Cambridge. In 1665, a period of COVID-like lockdowns due to spread of the Black Death, Newton retreated to his family estate. It was during this time that he made groundbreaking discoveries and formulated the foundation of his scientific theories.

Newton's crowning achievement was his publication of "Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica" (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) in 1687. In this monumental work, he laid out his three laws of motion and the law of universal gravitation. These laws revolutionised our understanding of celestial mechanics, explaining the motion of planets, moons, and other celestial bodies with unprecedented accuracy.

Newton's pioneering work in optics also shed light on the nature of light itself. Through his experiments with prisms and observations of colour dispersion, he unravelled the complex properties of white light and established the foundation of modern optics. He anticipated the photon explanation for the wave-particle duality of light, describing light to be made up of corpuscles.

Newton's scientific contributions had far-reaching consequences, shaping the course of scientific progress for centuries to come. His laws of motion and the law of universal gravitation provided a unifying framework for understanding the physical universe, serving as the foundation for classical mechanics.

Newton's mathematical prowess laid the groundwork for the development of calculus, a field instrumental in various scientific disciplines. He developed this as a sidenote to solving the orbits of the planets but never explicitly published this mathematical technique as an innovation – he is credited along with Leibniz for its invention. Also, his invention of the reflecting telescope propelled advancements in astronomy, enabling astronomers to explore the cosmos with greater precision.

Newton's influence extended beyond his scientific achievements. He served as the President of the Royal Society from 1703 to 1727, playing a pivotal role in fostering scientific inquiry and collaboration. His meticulous record-keeping and scientific rigor set new standards for empirical research.

What is less often celebrated is that Newton was also a leading alchemist of his time and a senior member of esoteric, secret societies. It is unclear whether he revealed the secrets of alchemy, along with his conquering of the natural world through logic and mathematics. However, he was appointed as the Warden and Master of the Royal Mint from 1696 to 1727. Did Newton also successfully transmute base metals to gold? If any mind might be capable of such a feat, Newton would be close to the top of my list.

Newton's unparalleled contributions to science and mathematics secured his place as one of history's greatest scientific minds. Newton's legacy persists in the principles that underpin modern physics, and his impact reverberates through the scientific community to this day. The name Isaac Newton will forever be synonymous with scientific revolution and the unrelenting pursuit of knowledge.