Today, we celebrate the birth of a man who has impacted the history of the world to a degree which few can match. I speak of course of Sir Isaac Newton, the father of physics.
He was born on December 25, 1642 (under the old Julian calendar). His groundbreaking work forever changed the way we learn about and understand reality. With his invention of the Calculus, he provided the mathematical framework for modelling reality. His study of motion (built upon the work of Galileo and Kepler) overturned two millennia of Aristotle’s deeply flawed and misguided version of physics. His study of light foreshadowed the birth of quantum mechanics. (He correctly realized that light is corpuscular in nature, although his reasoning for that conclusion was flawed.)
He was also knee-deep in the superstitious nonsense of alchemy and engaged in a protracted feud with Leibniz over credit for the invention of the Calculus, but nobody is perfect. (Technically, Newton came up with the Calculus first, by several decades, as shown by the contents of his notebooks, but he made the mistake of holding off on publishing his work.)
In celebration of the life of this great man, I first happily note that the University of Cambridge is making a digitized collection of Newton’s papers available online. Weeee!
Over the days leading up to the anniversary of Sir Isaac’s birth, Chad Orzel over at the “Uncertain Principles” blog has been posting a series of articles entitled “The Advent Calendar of Physics,” with each entry celebrating an important equation in the historical development of physics, starting of course with Newton’s contributions. They are worth a look-see:
Update: Feb. 14, 2012
Here is a physics advent calendar from 2007: A Plottl a Day