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In this lesson, we will learn about the role Isaac Newton played in the Scientific Revolution. We will explore his major contributions to science, and see why he is one of the most important scientists to have ever lived.

Who Was Isaac Newton?

Maybe some of you have heard the story of Isaac Newton sitting under the apple tree. You know, the apple falls on his head, and badda-boom, badda-bing, he ‘discovers’ gravity. Well, the tale is probably a bit of a simplification, but it is loosely based on actual events.

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Isaac Newton (1643-1727) was an English scientist and philosopher who formulated the Laws of Motion and the Law of Universal Gravitation. We will talk more about these in a little bit.Because of his many contributions, Newton is considered one of the most important scientists who has ever lived. Newton specialized in the branch of science known as physics.

He was primarily concerned with issues of matter and motion. He was also a well-known mathematician, and taught mathematics at the University of Cambridge.

The Scientific Revolution

The Middle Ages (which lasted approximately 500 to 1500 A.D.) are sometimes called the ‘Dark Ages’ because many historians say there were relatively few scientific innovations during this time. Actually, there’s a big debate about this; recently, some historians are beginning to rethink whether the ‘Dark Ages’ were really that ‘dark.

‘ In any case, around 1500 A.D. things began to change. Around this time, in Western Civilization, all kinds of scientific discoveries were being made.The Scientific Revolution is the term used to described the emergence of modern science that took place throughout the 16th to 17th centuries. There is actually no strict set of dates for the Scientific Revolution, but it peaked between the 16th to 17th centuries.

Leading figures of the Scientific Revolution included Isaac Newton (of course!), Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, and many others.The Scientific Revolution is very important because it set the foundation for the modern view of the universe that we hold today. What we know about the solar system, physics, atoms and molecules, anatomy, and many other things comes from the advances made during the Scientific Revolution.

Newton’s Major Contributions

So, Isaac Newton was a major figure of the Scientific Revolution, and he helped shape it in powerful ways.

Let’s look at some of his most important contributions. Well, going back to the introduction, we remember that the thing everybody associates with Newton is gravity (you know, the apple falling from the tree and all that). Newton developed a physical law that has become known as Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation.In scientific language, the law states, ‘any two bodies in the universe attract each other with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.’ But for those of us who are not physicists, basically the law set forth the fundamental principles of gravitational force.Another major contribution made by Newton was the formulation of the laws of motion.

We call this Newton’s Laws of Motion, or sometimes just the Laws of Motion. Newton formulated three of them. We are not going to delve into the specifics of each law (although please feel free to do so on your own!), but basically his three laws of motion explain the relationship between objects and the forces that cause objects to be in motion. Newton’s Laws of Motion were set forth in a book he wrote, titled Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. It was first published in 1687.

Newton also helped confirm Nicolaus Copernicus’ heliocentric view of the universe; heliocentric means ‘sun-centered.’ This is the view in which the planets revolve around the sun. Before Copernicus, many people believed the Earth was the center of the universe and sun and planets rotated around the Earth; this is called the geocentric view.Newton’s research on motion helped give credibility to the heliocentric view. Newton also helped pioneer telescopic innovations, and he is sometimes credited with inventing the first reflecting telescope. He also conducted experiments using the prism, and developed a theory about the nature of color and light.

Basically, what you need to remember is that Newton was pretty much a genius, and is one of the most important scientists who has ever lived. He was a vital figure of the Scientific Revolution.

Lesson Summary

Let’s review. Isaac Newton (1643-1727) was a brilliant English scientist and philosopher who formulated the Laws of Motion and the Law of Universal Gravitation. He was a leading figure of the Scientific Revolution, which was a movement involving the emergence of modern science throughout the 16th to 17th century. One of his most famous contributions to science is referred to as Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation.

This scientific ‘law’ set forth the fundamental principles of gravitational force.He also formulated the Laws of Motion, which were three laws explaining the relationship between objects and the forces that cause objects to be in motion. The heliocentric view of the universe is the view that the sun is at the center of our solar system, and that the Earth and the planets revolve around the sun; heliocentric means ‘sun-centered.’ Newton’s research helped confirm this view.

Learning Outcomes

Once this lesson has finished you should be able to:

  • Recall who Isaac Newton was
  • Describe the Scientific Revolution and why it was so important
  • Name some of Newton’s biggest contributions to science

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