How Isaac Newton Used His Quarantine Productively

In 1665 when the great plague of London hit the english capital chaos erupted. It was a form of bubonic plague that ended up killing 75-100.000 citizens of the city. Almost a quarter of all its inhabitants.

Even though it would take around 200 year for scientist to realise what exactly had hit the city, Europe was not unfamiliar with large plague outbreaks. Therefor procedures like the ones used today to combat the Coronavirus were already widely used. Things like social distancings.

London before the great fire of London 1666

One of the 17th century englishmen affected by this, was none other than Sir Isaac Newton. However at that point Newton was not yet a Sir. He was a relatively ordinary student at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Newton was sent home by his university. Like all well off people like Newton that meant fleeing to the countryside and the young college student went to the family estate Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire.

Newton trived without his professors guidance and controle. His year away from Trinity is today referred to as his “years of wonders”. Newton himself called it the most intellectually productive period of his life.

Portrait of Sir Isaac Newton

First he began with the mathematics that he had already worked on in school, and developed part of of the foundation for modern algebra. However he quickly began mathematically experimenting himself.

He acquired prisms and observed light going through them. At that point no one knew what caused the rainbow like colors it created. Newton was fascinated by this mystery. He decided to use his new won time solving this mystery.

He even bore a hole in his shutters and observed the light flowing through. From here his theory of optics arose, which laid the foundation for a great part of modern physics.

A page of Isaac Newton’s notes on light and color, written during his qarantine in 1665-66

Outside his window stood an apple three. Need i say more?

However the widely told story that Newton was hit in the head with an apple and then all of a sudden understood gravity and motion is not entirely true. However the tree did play a role in his theory, and this was the period were Newton’s theory of gravity was developed. Head injury or not.

You might not be an Sir Isaac Newton. However you and Newton probably have something in common. You both would probably prefer to stay at your university, school or job. Sticking to your regular schedule. However nothing is so bad that something good can´t come out of it.

If you wish to be a bit more like Newton you might be able to create or understand something you wouldn’t have been able to in your normal circumstances. You might just solve a mystery like Newton, when your are unleashed from your daily rituals.

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