A Mind Unleashed

In 1665, following an outbreak of the bubonic plague in England, Cambridge University closed its doors, forcing Issac Newton, then a college student in his 20s, to go home.

Away from university life, and unbounded by curriculum constraints and tests, Newton thrived. The year-plus he spent in isolation was later referred to as his annus mirabilis, the “year of wonders.”

First, he continued what he had begun at Cambridge: “forging the sword” in mathematical problem solving; Within a year, he gave birth to differential and integral calculus.

Next, he acquired a few glass prisms and made a hole in his window shutter so only a small beam could come through. What he saw after placing a prism in the sunbeam sprung his theories of optics.

And yes, there was an apple tree in the garden! One fateful day in 1666, while contemplating celestial body movements under that tree, Newton was bonked by a falling apple. It dawned on him that the force pulling the apple to the ground might be the same force that holds celestial bodies in orbit. The epiphany led him to discover the law of universal gravitation.

Newton returned to Cambridge in 1667 after the plague had ended. Within six months, he was made a fellow of Trinity College; two years later, the prestigious Lucasian Chair of Mathematics.