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Isaac Newton's Role in the Scientific Revolution

Isaac Newton's Role in the Scientific Revolution
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  • 0:01 Who Was Isaac Newton?
  • 1:02 The Scientific Revolution
  • 2:36 Newton's Major Contributions
  • 5:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn about the role Isaac Newton played in the Scientific Revolution. We will explore his major contributions to science, and see why he is one of the most important scientists to have ever lived.

Who Was Isaac Newton?

Maybe some of you have heard the story of Isaac Newton sitting under the apple tree. You know, the apple falls on his head, and badda-boom, badda-bing, he 'discovers' gravity. Well, the tale is probably a bit of a simplification, but it is loosely based on actual events. Isaac Newton (1643-1727) was an English scientist and philosopher who formulated the Laws of Motion and the Law of Universal Gravitation. We will talk more about these in a little bit.

Because of his many contributions, Newton is considered one of the most important scientists who has ever lived. Newton specialized in the branch of science known as physics. He was primarily concerned with issues of matter and motion. He was also a well-known mathematician, and taught mathematics at the University of Cambridge.

The Scientific Revolution

The Middle Ages (which lasted approximately 500 to 1500 A.D.) are sometimes called the 'Dark Ages' because many historians say there were relatively few scientific innovations during this time. Actually, there's a big debate about this; recently, some historians are beginning to rethink whether the 'Dark Ages' were really that 'dark.' In any case, around 1500 A.D. things began to change. Around this time, in Western Civilization, all kinds of scientific discoveries were being made.

The Scientific Revolution is the term used to described the emergence of modern science that took place throughout the 16th to 17th centuries. There is actually no strict set of dates for the Scientific Revolution, but it peaked between the 16th to 17th centuries. Leading figures of the Scientific Revolution included Isaac Newton (of course!), Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, and many others.

The Scientific Revolution is very important because it set the foundation for the modern view of the universe that we hold today. What we know about the solar system, physics, atoms and molecules, anatomy, and many other things comes from the advances made during the Scientific Revolution.

Newton's Major Contributions

So, Isaac Newton was a major figure of the Scientific Revolution, and he helped shape it in powerful ways. Let's look at some of his most important contributions. Well, going back to the introduction, we remember that the thing everybody associates with Newton is gravity (you know, the apple falling from the tree and all that). Newton developed a physical law that has become known as Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation.

In scientific language, the law states, 'any two bodies in the universe attract each other with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.' But for those of us who are not physicists, basically the law set forth the fundamental principles of gravitational force.

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