24th December 2018

Isaac Newton was born in 1643 in Woolsthorpe, England. His father was a wealthy, uneducated farmer who died three months before Newton was born. Newton’s mother remarried and he was left in the care of his grandmother.

Newton became interested in mathematics after buying a book at a fair and not understanding the math concepts it contained. Newton graduated with a bachelors degree in 1665. The further pursuit of an education was interrupted by the plague. Trinity College was closed due to the highly contagious, deadly disease. Newton went home. It was during this time that Newton started to pursue his own ideas on math, physics, optics and astronomy. By 1666 he had completed his early work on his three laws of motion. The university reopened and Newton took a fellowship in order to obtain his masters degree.

As the years progressed, Newton completed his work on universal gravitation, diffraction of light, centrifugal force, centripetal force, inverse-square law, bodies in motion and the variations in tides due to gravity. His impressive body of work made him a leader in scientific research. However, in 1679 his work came to standstill after he suffered a nervous breakdown. Upon regaining his health Newton returned to the university. He became a leader against what he saw as an attack on the university by King James II. The king wanted only Roman Catholics to be in positions of power in government and academia. Newton spoke out against the king. When William of Orange drove James out of England, Newton was elected to Parliament. While in London he became more enchanted with the life of politics than the life of research. After suffering a second breakdown in 1693 Newton retired from research. He became Warden of the Royal Mint in 1696. He became Master of the Royal Mint in 1699. Newton was very instrumental in developing techniques to prevent counterfeiting of the English money.

Throughout Newton’s career he was torn between his desire for fame and his fear of criticism. His overwhelming fear of criticism caused him to resist immediate publication of his work. As a consequence Newton often felt compelled to defend his work against plagiarism. One such dispute arose over calculus. Though Newton had been the first to derive calculus as a mathematical approach, Gottfried Leibniz was the first one to widely disseminate the concept throughout Europe. The dispute with Leibniz dominated the last years of his life. Newton died in 1727.

Source: https://starchild.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/StarChild/whos_who_level2/newton.html

But was he really born on Christmas Day?

Newton was born in England on Christmas Day 1642 according to the Julian calendar, the calendar in use in England at the time. But by the 1640’s, much of the rest of Europe was using the Gregorian calendar, (the one in general use today); according to this calendar, Newton was born on Jan. 4, 1643. So we have this ambiguity where Isaac Newton could have correctly stated during his entire life that he was born on Christmas day, but according to our modern calendar this is not the case.

Nevertheless I couldn’t resist the idea of having someone of such great importance to astronomy linked with Christmas day, so I’m saying that Isaac Newton was (sort of!) born on Christmas day.