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Why is Sir Isaac Newton the greatest Briton of all time?

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Why is Sir Isaac Newton the greatest Briton of all time?

Why pick a scientist over someone who has contributed to any other field of endeavour?

Look at the evidence: here is a person who discovered the universal law of why “what goes up must come down”, the explanation of the colours of a rainbow; and a method of calculation with applications in far reaching areas that affect our lives today.

Newton is best known for formulating a universal law of gravitation, however it is unlikely that his ideas stemmed solely from the well-known story of an apple falling on his head whilst sat under a tree. His mathematical researches into planetary motion drew him to the conclusion that that the force of attraction that held planets in their orbits, and the Moon in its orbit around Earth, varied inversely with the square of their distance from the sun. In other words, the nearer you are to a planet the greater its force of gravitational pull.

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Newton is said to have invented the ‘Calculus’. The calculus, most simply put, is a way of finding the area under a curve drawn on a graph and the gradients of tangents drawn at any point on that curve. Why is this useful?  Well, this allows us to find out rates, areas and volumes by what is known as ‘differentiation’ and ‘integration’.

For instance, if you wanted to find out how quickly your reconditioned MK1 Ford Cortina with go-faster stripes accelerated to 0-60 mph in, you could set up an experiment to plot the distance travelled by the car accelerating from a stand-still to its top speed against time. If you used differentiation on a corresponding curve drawn on a graph, you could find the speed of the car at any given time. Furthermore, if you used differentiation again, you could determine its acceleration. Alternatively, you could set up an experiment to

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"If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants."

During his lifetime he never married, although one could argue that he was married to his work. He summed up his scientific endeavour and cosmic curiosity when he innocently remarked:

"I know not what I appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."

Greatness but touched with humility, a lifetime’s work that has had an enormous impact on the development of mankind and a single-minded pursuit to uncover the secrets of the universe: Surely Newton is the greatest Briton of all time.

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