Skip to main content

Happy (belated) Birthday, Isaac


Isaac Newton was born 367 years ago as of yesterday. Other than Google, few people seemed to remember it. I assume that's because we tend focus on birthdays that are multiples of 5, so just wait for 2013, Isaac!

It's really too bad the folks at Google went with the old apple motif for Newton's birthday. After all, he did lots of wonderful, important, and despicable things , but everyone associates him with a made-up story about an apple hitting him on the head. They could have chosen any number of doodles to represent real aspects of his life. In addition to inventing calculus and revolutionizing physics, he was at various times an astronomer, an alchemist, a knight, a detective, a prosecutor, and a religious fanatic.

One of my favorite Newton stories is about the time when he served as warden for the Royal mint in England. In an effort to fight the rampant counterfeiting of the time, he went to taverns in disguise to listen in on conversations among criminals. After conducting his stealthy investigation, he later managed to be appointed justice of the peace to oversee trials of the very people he investigated. He cross examined hundreds of witnesses, and ultimately managed to get 10 counterfeiters sentenced to death. I can't help feeling a sorry for the unlucky criminals who had to face a ruthless genius like Newton in court.

Then there are the stories about his search for the alchemist's secret to turn lead into gold, and his bible-based calculation that the world will end no sooner than 2060. To be fair, Newton's true legacy is calculus and the amazing contributions he made to physics. But it's comforting, in a way, to know that even one of the greatest people to ever walk the Earth was less than perfect. It all just serves to make him that much more interesting.

Comments

Popular Posts

How 4,000 Physicists Gave a Vegas Casino its Worst Week Ever

What happens when several thousand distinguished physicists, researchers, and students descend on the nation’s gambling capital for a conference? The answer is "a bad week for the casino"—but you'd never guess why.

Ask a Physicist: Phone Flash Sharpie Shock!

Lexie and Xavier, from Orlando, FL want to know:
"What's going on in this video? Our science teacher claims that the pain comes from a small electrical shock, but we believe that this is due to the absorption of light. Please help us resolve this dispute!"

The Science of Ice Cream: Part One

Even though it's been a warm couple of months already, it's officially summer. A delicious, science-filled way to beat the heat? Making homemade ice cream.

(We've since updated this article to include the science behind vegan ice cream. To learn more about ice cream science, check out The Science of Ice Cream, Redux)

Over at Physics@Home there's an easy recipe for homemade ice cream. But what kind of milk should you use to make ice cream? And do you really need to chill the ice cream base before making it? Why do ice cream recipes always call for salt on ice?