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Knight in white light

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On April 17, 1705, Queen Anne of Great Britain knighted Isaac Newton at Trinity College, while she was visiting Cambridge. Newton thus became the second scientist to be given this rank. The first was Sir Francis Bacon. Isaac Newton was born in the small hamlet of Woolsthorpe in England and was raised by his maternal grandmother. It is said that, in a bid to outdo the school bully, Newton applied himself to his studies and topped the class. Despite many ups and downs, he secured a place at Trinity College, Cambridge. His education was interrupted when the university shut down because of bubonic plague.

While there, he studied optics and light refraction. He said that white light was a composite of every colour on the spectrum and that light was made of particles. In 1687, he published a three-volume series called the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia. His copy of the first edition is displayed at the Cambridge University Library. Later, he was elected as a Member of Parliament and appointed Warden of the Royal Mint. His contributions to Maths, Astronomy and Physics are unparalleled. He was inspired by Rene Descartes, Galileo Galilei and Nicolaus Copernicus. He said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”He died at the age of 87 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

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Apples and lockdowns

In 1665, when the bubonic plague spread through England, Cambridge University had to shut down for two years and Newton had to go back to Woolsthorpe Manor. While sitting in the garden there, he saw an apple fall from a tree, which is said to have inspired him to formulate the law of universal gravitation. The original apple tree continues to grow at Woolsthorpe Manor.

In shining armour

During the Middle Ages, knights risked their lives fighting for kings and lords and were granted land and privileged status. When armies became centralised, the role of the knight became redundant. Today, it is just a ceremonial rank of honour with no military duties. A knighthood cannot be inherited.

A man who has been made a knight by the British monarch is addressed as by his first name, preceded by ‘Sir’. So, if you were to address Isaac Newton, you would say Sir Isaac. Newton was made ‘Knights Bachelor’, which is the lowest rank of knighthood within the British honours system.

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 5:00:33 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/knight-in-white-light/article34294904.ece

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