Sir Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727) was an English physicist and mathematician. He is famous for his work on the laws of motion, optics, gravity, and calculus. In 1687, Newton published a book called the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica in which he presents his theory of universal gravitation and three laws of motion.
Newton built the first practical reflecting telescope in 1668; he also developed a theory of light based on the observation that a prism decomposes white light into the colors of the rainbow. Newton also shares credit with Gottfried Leibniz for the development of calculus.
Newton’s ideas on light, motion, and gravity dominated physics for the next three centuries, until modified by Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.
- gravitational potential energy – the energy an object possesses because of its position in a gravitational field. Think about riding a bike up a hill. As you ride, the work you are doing is storing up gravitational potential energy. You can turn this back into kinetic energy by free-wheeling back down the hill.
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Challenges for you to work on…
- Build a Newtonian physics machine – this crazy contraption demonstrates one of the basic laws of nature. This law explains many events we see every day. For example, why does a big truck come out the winner in a head-on crash with a small car, even if both are going the same speed upon impact? See the explanation of momentum
- NASA’s “Fundamental Physics in Space” program uses the special “microgravity” conditions of space to test out new ideas about the laws of nature. Scientists working on these questions are doing some very strange things! In one set of experiments, they will be testing the most accurate clocks ever made.