Voltaire Residence

This page shows people who were in the life of Emilie du Châtelet.

Sir Isaac Newton by Godfrey Kneller Sir Isaac Newton
born: Dec. 25, 1642 Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, England
died: March 20, 1727, London, England

Isaac Newton, English mathematician and physicist, was the key figure of the scientific revolution in the late 1600's. In optics, he discovered that white light is actually a composition of colors, and laid the foundation for modern physical optics. In the field of optics, he also invented the reflecting telescope that had a magnification 40 times greater than telescopes that used lenses. In mathematics, he was the original discoverer of the infinitesimal calculus, which is essential to modern physics and to most other branches of modern science and engineering.

Newton's three laws of motion, the basic principles of modern physics, resulted in his formulation of the law of universal gravitation, which he confirmed by the phenomena of tides and the orbits of comets. Newton's laws of motion and the law of universal gravitation provided the basis for understanding our solar system and the orbit of the planets around the sun.

In 1703, Newton was elected the President of the Royal Society, and was recognized as the patriarch of English science. By 1730, Newton's discoveries were known to the members of the French Academy, and were being promoted by Moreau de Maupertuis, Alexis-Claude Clairaut, and a few others in the Academy.

Isaac Newton played a significant role in the life of Emilie du Châtelet, though she never met the man. Emilie translated Newton's Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy or the Principia as it is commonly known (written in 1687) from its original Latin text into French. To accomplish this, one would have to understand Latin, algebra, geometry, calculus, physics, and astronomy, be a good writer, be capable of explaining concepts using the logic of mathematics, and have the persistence to actually do the translation.

Emilie's translation of the Principia is significant because she brought Newton's work into the academic world of Europe in the 18th century. At the time the book was published in 1759, Newton's work was known by only a small number of scholars on the continent. Her translation of the Principia became the textbook used throughout Europe that explained Newton's principles of physics. For many years this was the only translation of Newton's work in French.

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