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This Day In HISTORY

April 16, 1705

Isaac Newton Is Knighted

On this day in 1705, Isaac Newton was knighted by England’s Queen Anne. Sir, as he was henceforth known, Isaac Newton was born in the hamlet of Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire in 1642. He was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1661 where he immersed himself in the works of the English physicists Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke, the writings of philosopher René Descartes, and the great astronomers, Galileo, and Copernicus.

Having obtained his degree in 1665, he was forced to return to Woolsthorpe when the university was temporarily closed as a precaution against the Great Plague. Whilst away from university, Newton continued the exploration of calculus, optics, and gravitation he had begun at Cambridge, and it is during this two-year hiatus that some of his most influential personal discoveries are said to have taken place.

Most famously, it was whilst sitting in the garden of his mother’s house that Newton claimed to have been inspired to begin formulating his theory of universal gravitation. Observing how an apple fell from a tree, Newton recognised that the same force acted upon the apple as it did upon the moon, providing him with the basis for one of science’s most fundamental realisations.

Upon returning to Cambridge in 1667, Newton began embarking upon a series of experiments with the refraction of light, and the following year his work was bought to the attention of the scientific community when he devised his reflecting telescope. It was also during this period that Newton’s study of optics and refraction led him to conclusions regarding the composition of white light and what has become known as Newton’s theory of colour.

On 5 July 1687, Newton published his most notable written work, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, also known as the Principia. The Principia, which spans three volumes, explores Newton’s theory of universal gravitation, concluding that this universal force applies to all objects in all parts of the Universe, including apples and moons.

The Principia also elucidates Newton’s law of motion and includes Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. Though the Principia has since become regarded as one of the most important publications in scientific history, it was not afforded widespread scientific acceptance for many years and Newton only gained popularity and fame towards the end of his lifetime.

In his later years, Newton became a member of parliament and was also given the post of warden at the Royal Mint in London in 1696. In 1705, Newton was knighted by Queen Anne, only the second scientist to receive the accolade after Sir Francis Bacon in 1703.

Since his death in 1727, Newton’s notebooks continue to give profound insight into both his scientific and lifelong theological studies. They reveal Newton’s deep interest in alchemy and mysticism, as well as a profound knowledge of Greek mythology and pre-Socratic philosophy. In later editions of his scientific publications, Newton also affirmed a belief in God’s providential role in nature.

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