Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) is famous for discovering gravity and developing the theory of how gravity works. His early education, particularly his first student years at the University of Cambridge, are well documented. Newton maintained his relationship with Cambridge throughout his career as one of the world's best known mathematicians.
Isaac Newton was born in Woolsthorpe, England, a farming community near Grantham in Lincolnshire. His father was a fairly wealthy man who owned land and animals, but he was also completely uneducated and illiterate. Unfortunately, Isaac's father died three months before his birth. His mother remarried but left her young son in his grandmother's care, an unhappy period on Newton's life. Finally, in 1653, Isaac attended the Free Grammar School in Grantham. Interestingly, accounts of his school days suggest he was an average pupil, described as "idle" and "inattentive." His mother decided that since Isaac wasn't much of a scholar he should leave school and manage her finances. However, he had no aptitude for that work.
Return to School
Isaac's maternal uncle William decided that his nephew should go to university and persuaded Isaac's mother that she should support him despite his earlier poor school reports. Isaac returned to his old school in Grantham in 1660 and boarded with headmaster Mr. Stokes, who also supported his preparation for university entrance. Biographers suggest that Stokes gave Newton additional private lessons, and that he may have introduced him to Euclid's "Elements." Sources also suggest that Newton showed a gift for building mechanical models at school, particularly clocks.
Isaac Newton arrived at Trinity College Cambridge in June, 1661. Although his mother was quite wealthy, Newton entered the college as a "sizar," or a student who received an allowance in exchange for acting as servant to other college students. Newton began by studying law. Teaching at Cambridge in Newton's time focused on studying Aristotle, but in his third year Newton developed an interest in Boyle's scientific writings on chemistry and mathematics. He also studied Galileo's mechanics of astronomy and Kepler's work on planetary laws, optics and geometry.
In 1664, Newton began writing down some of his own theories in "Quaestiones Quaedem Philosophicae" while still at Cambridge. According to one source, Abraham de Moivre, a later mathematician, his interest in mathematics began when he bought a book on astrology at a Cambridge fair and was puzzled by the mathematical calculations. He also started studying trigonometry and geometry. Newton received his bachelor's degree in 1665. Further studies at Cambridge were cut short because the plague outbreak in England closed the university. Newton returned home and during the following two years worked on his revolutionary theories in physics and mathematics. In 1667, Newton returned to Cambridge as a Fellow of Trinity College and continued his studies, which led to his eventual appointment as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in 1670.
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