Posted by: Kash Farooq | July 20, 2012

A visit to Sir Isaac Newton’s House

I recently went to Woolsthorpe Manor – the birthplace and family home of Sir Isaac Newton. It’s in Lincolnshire and about 30 miles from Nottingham.

Newton was born here on Christmas Day, 1642. He returned here from Cambridge University when the university was closed due to the plague and it was during this time he performed his ground-breaking work on light and optics. It is also believed to be the site where Newton observed an apple fall from a tree – which led to him formulating his law of universal gravitation.

It’s a very important historical location. Modern physics was born here. It was an amazing feeling walking around the grounds, around the house, thinking about Newton doing the same thing hundreds of years ago.

I really enjoyed my visit, but I’d probably not travel for miles to get there – there isn’t lots to see. If you are in the area, definitely pay a visit.

I took a few photos on my phone so I thought I’d share them.

Woolsthorpe Manor, Sir Isaac Newton’s house. The top right window is the window of the room in which it is thought Newton did his light splitting experiments.

The room where Sir Isaac Newton split light.

This is (probably) the room Sir Isaac Newton split light with a prism and discovered that “white” light is made up of lots of colours. He blacked out the window apart from a tiny spot in the middle and let the remaining light hit a prism.

An old visitors book on display. The underlined entry records Stephen Hawking’s visit – with job title “Lucasian Professor of Mathematics”. There is also a photocopied page on display recording Albert Einstein’s visit.

Third Edition of Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica. From Wikipedia:  The Principia states Newton’s laws of motion, forming the foundation of classical mechanics, also Newton’s law of universal gravitation, and a derivation of Kepler’s laws of planetary motion (which Kepler first obtained empirically). The Principia is “justly regarded as one of the most important works in the history of science”.

*The* tree (allegedly) from which the apple fell that inspired Newton to develop his ideas of gravity.

About that tree…

Seeing an apple falling definitely inspired Newton. It probably didn’t land on his head, but the apple falling incident does appear to have happened and began Newton’s thought process on gravity!

A BBC article states:

Newton recounted the story that inspired his theory of gravitation to scholar William Stukeley. It then appeared in Stukeley’s 1752 biography, Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton’s Life.

The Royal Society has now digitised these memoirs. See for yourself on page 42 – Stukeley discusses the conversation he had with Newton (excerpt below).

After dinner, the weather being warm, we went into the garden & drank thea under the shade of some apple tree; only he & myself. Amid other discourse, he told me, he was just in the same situation, as when formerly the notion of gravitation came into his mind. Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground, thought he to himself; occasion’d by the fall of an apple, as he sat in contemplative mood. Why should it not go sideways, or upwards? But constantly to the Earth’s centre? Assuredly the reason is, that the Earth draws it. There must be a drawing power in matter. And the sum of the drawing power in the matter of the Earth must be in the Earth’s centre, not in any side of the Earth. Therefore does this apple fall perpendicularly or towards the centre? If matter thus draws matter; it must be proportion of its quantity. Therefore the apple draws the Earth, as well as the Earth draws the apple.

The Woolsthorpe Manor property is now owned by the National Trust and they proudly state: “You can still see the famous apple tree that inspired his thoughts on gravity from the bedroom window.” But there are various reports that contradict that.

Even if the exact tree is not still alive, it’s descendants probably are. I was pleased to discover that several universities around the world have trees that they state are descendants of the original apple tree. For example, Trinity College CambridgeThe University of Washington and MIT all say they have apple trees growing that are descendants of Newton’s tree.


Responses

  1. “I do not know what I may 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 than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
    ― Isaac Newton
    Thanks to share the ‘discoveries’ with us.
    Kishore


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