Sir Isaac Newton is known for his extraordinary contributions towards science but he also worked in other fields and his curiosity led him to do strange things. Here are 10 interesting facts about Newton that you probably didn’t know.

For Sir Isaac’s life and achievements, please refer to this article.

 

#1 Newton studied hard at school to take revenge on a bully

Portrait of Isaac Newton by Godfrey Kneller
1689 Portrait of Isaac Newton (Age 46) by Godfrey Kneller

Newton was bullied by a student in school who also did well in academics. Newton challenged him for a fight and won. It was partly due to his desire to take revenge against this schoolyard bully that Newton became a top ranked student.

#2 He was deeply religious

Though Newton’s scientific work had been used by some people to argue against the existence of God, he himself said, “Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done.” In fact Newton was deeply religious and he wrote more on religion than he wrote on natural sciences.

#3 He wanted to divine future events

Newton tried to extract scientific information from the Bible and other religious texts. He learned Hebrew and studied Kabbalism and the Talmud in order to divine future events. One of his predictions was that the world would end in 2060.

#4 Newton’s birthday is celebrated as Newtonmas

Newtonmas
Some non-believers celebrate 25 December as Newtonmas

Under the Old Style Julian Calendar, Newton’s birthday falls on December 25. Hence some non-believers celebrate 25 December as Newtonmas, as an alternative to celebrating the religious holiday Christmas. Celebrants exchange boxes of apples and science related items as gifts. The name Newtonmas can be attributed to the Skeptics Society, which needed an alternative name for its Christmas party.

#5 He stuck a needle in his eye for inquisitiveness

Isaac Newton’s inquisitiveness may have led to great discoveries but it also made him do strange things. “To see what would happen” he once stared at the sun with one eye until he could bear it. For the same reason he also once stuck a large needle into his eye socket, twiddled it around and calmly noted that he saw white, dark and coloured circles. Thankfully his eyes were able to recover from these strange experiments.

#6 He was a Member of Parliament

Sir Isaac Newton was elected as a member of the Parliament for Cambridge University 1689–90 and 1701–2. During his tenure, supposedly, his only comments were to complain about a cold draught in the chamber and request that the window be closed.

 

#7 He made two cat flaps for the cat and the kitten

Cat Flap or Cat Door
Isaac Newton is credited with inventing the cat flap

Newton is credited for inventing the cat flap or cat door, a small door within the door for your pet. It is also said that Newton foolishly made a large door for the cat and a smaller one for her kittens, not realizing that the kittens could use the larger one. The accuracy of the story is debated. Newton’s biographers maintain that he owned “neither cat nor dog in his chamber” but it has been verified that there are two holes in his door about the right size for a cat and a kitten to pass through.

#8 Newton was an alchemist and wanted to create the Philosopher’s Stone

Newton had great interest in alchemy. He spent much time in the study of the alchemists including Jacob Boehme and went on to write 169 books dealing with Alchemy. One of Newton’s aims was to find the Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Life through his experiments.

#9 Mercury might be the reason behind his eccentricity in later life

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein kept a photo of Newton in his study hall

Newton’s alchemic experiments with metals often included analysis of taste of which there are 108 documented, including mercury: strong, sourish, and ungrateful. Chemical poisoning as a result of these experiments is often cited as one of the reasons behind Newton’s nervous breakdown in 1693. After his death, Newton’s hair was examined and found to contain high levels of mercury. This might be the cause behind his eccentric behaviour in later life.

#10 Newton Vs Einstein for the title of greatest physicist ever

Albert Einstein is perhaps the only one who comes close to Isaac Newton in contributions towards Physics. He kept a picture of Newton in his study hall. In 1999, an opinion poll of 100 of today’s leading physicists voted Einstein the “greatest physicist ever” with Newton the runner-up, while a parallel survey of rank-and-file physicists by the site PhysicsWeb gave the top spot to Newton. In a 2005 survey Britain’s Royal Society scientists deemed Newton to have made the greater overall contribution towards science.

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