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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

December 25th - Newton Day - Abbas Raza

Mortals! Rejoice at so great an ornament to the human race!

NewtonThe title of this post is a translation of a Latin inscription on Sir Isaac Newton's tomb. This is the fourth year that we at 3QD celebrate the auspicious 25th day of December as Newton's Day, an idea that we coincidentally came to independently on the same day as Richard Dawkins proposed it. (Newton was born 365 years ago today.) Each year I have given some small snippet about Newton's life (previous years' posts here, here, and here in chronological order) and this year I'll present a simple experiment that changed our understanding of the nature of light. Even though Newton had done the experiment in 1666, he did not publish it as part of his first major bit of scientific writing until 1672. In fact, just as in a more fair world (with a more fair academy in Oslo!) Einstein should have won four Nobels for the work he published as a 26 year-old in 1905 (the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special relativity, and the derivation of the law of the equivalence of mass and energy, E=mc2, from the equations of special relativity), Newton's achievements of the summer of 1666 (which caused Murray Gell-Mann to joke about that annus mirabilis that Sir Isaac could have written quite a "What I did on my summer vacation" essay!) were no less astounding: the law of gravitation, the laws of motion, the work on optics, and the invention of the calculus! [click on the heading to read the rest]


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