Getting Personal with Isaac Newton

Disclaimer: This is rehashed from an article I wrote in February 2017 for GineersNow. Some parts are added or edited for clarity.

When I hear about the word ‘Newton’, the first thing that comes into my mind is it being the SI unit of force. That easy recall is caused by the extensive use of the unit in the major subjects of my civil engineering course.

In cases I forget that, the next thing that pops in my head is the three laws of motion, which were first discussed in basic engineering physics. Such laws were discovered by Isaac Newton. Only then that I could remember the man Isaac himself, whose name was used to describe his most important discoveries.

But that’s only me. For others, ‘Newton’ immediately registers the influential scientist who has made great contributions in physics, astronomy, mathematics, philosophy, and theology.

One of his most notable achievements in the history of science is the Philosophae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, a book that Newton established to define many science concepts like the universal gravitation and the laws of motion. It’s one of the bibles of science.


Science textbooks are fair to print all of these about Newton because they are his key accomplishments. But authors never publish the weird yet interesting facts about Newton that make good trivia to discover more about this great man of science.

I’m here to share some of those facts below:

Newton stuck a needle in his eye socket for science. Because there are not much studies about optics during his time, Newton thought he would experiment on his own eyes with unfounded beliefs of the eye creating or collecting light. For science, he probed his eye with a blunt needle known as a bodkin.Newton wrote this in his journal.

Newton suffered from two major nervous breakdowns. One in 1678 and the other in 1693. The first one was after he engaged in a dispute over aspects of his theory of optics. The second one was after he retired from scientific research, which according to him, was due to his lack of sleep.Scientists argued that it was because of his alchemy experiments involving mercury that drove him mad.

Newton was born prematurely. His mother reportedly said that he was so small at birth that he could have fit inside a quart mug. That’s because he was born 11 to 15 weeks ahead.

Newton worked as a waiter. This was during his time as a student at the University of Cambridge. He was referred to as a “sizar”, meaning an undergraduate who received financial assistance in return for performing menial duties. Newton’s job was to wait tables and take care of other students’ rooms.

Source: National Geographic

Newton invented calculus at the time he escaped the Great Plague. In 1665, Cambridge was hit by a devastating plague which had Newton and his classmates sent home to ride out the epidemic. Being the mathematician that he is, he did not bore himself and instead fiddled with differentials and integrals, marking the invention of calculus.

Newton died a virgin. Well, this is impossible to verify but this is what has been passed on to generations. One thing is for sure though: he never married.

Newton’s famous story about the apple is not true. At least maybe not the way it was told. We were taught that the idea of gravitation hit Newton when he was sitting under a tree contemplating about life when suddenly an apple struck him on the head. This is false. Science scholars believe that that story was entirely made up, and the real deal was that Newton was merely looking out the window when he happened to see the fruit drop.

Newton stuttered severely. Maybe that’s the case for some of the world’s greatest minds including Aristotle, Moses, Winston Churchill and Charles Darwin. They all had their tongues trip habitually.

Newton became a member of the parliament and he only spoke once. And that is only to tell someone to close a window. Politics just wasn’t in his nature.

Sources: Huffington Post | Mental Floss

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