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SIR ISAAC NEWTON
SIR ISAAC NEWTON
England (1643 - 1727)
English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist and theologian, his Philosophæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, published in 1687, is considered to be the most influential book in the history of science. In this work, Newton described universal gravitation and the three laws of motion, laying the groundwork for classical mechanics, which dominated the scientific view of the physical universe for the next three centuries and is the basis for modern engineering.
 

Enjoy these insightful and educational video clips drawn from over 70 hours of interviews with the world's leading figures in astronomy, shot during the filming of 400 Years of the Telescope.

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Robert Iliffe

The aftermath of Newton's publication
Robert Iliffe - University of Sussex

What’s interesting is that in a very short period of time he goes from being this most private man to being the most public of men in the 1690s, and that is because in 1687 he published the greatest scientific work of all time, the Principia Mathematica.

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Robert Iliffe

Challenges in the evolution of the telescope
Robert Iliffe - University of Sussex

There are two things that make the evolution of telescopes difficult. One is spherical aberration.

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Robert Iliffe

Light as a topic of study
Robert Iliffe - University of Sussex

Light is one of the things that many people are writing about and discussing at the time, particularly after Descartes’ work in the late 1630s, and there’s the possibility, that’s important for natural philosophers and astronomers, that you can see further with use of telescopes if you’re an astronomer, or that you can see smaller and smaller things if you’re a natural philosopher with the use of microscopes.

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Robert Iliffe

Motivations of Newton's studies
Robert Iliffe - University of Sussex

The motivations are things that I think we won’t recover, but we know from an early age he was a loner, he read books that told you how to build things and make things, and mix colors, and he’s fascinated by mixing colors from a very early age.

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Robert Iliffe

Newton and his attitude
Robert Iliffe - University of Sussex

What Newton has is a great deal of anger, a great deal of talent, and a great deal of ambition, coupled with a great deal of arrogance. When that is put into his framework, his University framework as a young student, its effects are that he wants to compete with everyone else who has ever written in mathematics or natural philosophy.

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Robert Iliffe

Newton and religion
Robert Iliffe - University of Sussex

In the 1660s we know that Newton is a devout person, but he doesn’t really engage in serious theological study until the early 1670s, and we know that very quickly he became a heretic.

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Robert Iliffe

Newton, born in a time of revolution
Robert Iliffe - University of Sussex

Newton was born at a time of great revolution, both politically in England and also in terms of science across Europe.

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Robert Iliffe

Newton creates the reflecting mirror
Robert Iliffe - University of Sussex

There are other people at the time who are trying to build a reflecting telescope, but what Newton’s discovery of the differential refrangibility of colored rays shows to him is that there is a practical possibility of building a reflecting telescope, and he has the ability to do it. He knows how he can do it.

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Robert Iliffe

Newton's mathematics
Robert Iliffe - University of Sussex

In 1669, Newton wrote a remarkable tract called On Analysis which put him at the forefront of all mathematicians – he was obviously the greatest mathematician by that time who had ever lived, although very few people were aware of this.

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Robert Iliffe

Newton's reflecting telescope
Robert Iliffe - University of Sussex

We know that Newton did his experiments on prisms in the middle of the 1660s, and we know that in about 1668 he decides that he can do what some of his contemporaries are trying to do and create a telescope that is based on reflection, using a mirror, rather than refraction using a lens. And in 1668 he successfully creates the very first usable reflecting telescope in the world.

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