Quarantine: a stimulus for Newton to change the history of Physics

On occasions we have had to be subjected to various types of home quarantines due to an epidemic. The psychological and sociological consequences of this have naturally been negative, but also positive, we see below.

During the Plague, for example, confinement at home and social distancing surely favored geniuses like Shakespeare or Newton so that, surrounded by time, tranquility, silence and other inappropriate elements of hectic social life, they carried out some of their works. teachers.

Perhaps we can draw some motivation from other quarantine stories whose results were more than remarkable. This is the case of Isaac Newton, who during the quarantine due to the plague of 1665, made some of his greatest contributions to Physics.

Newton was in his early 20s when the Great Plague of London swept through the city. He was just another college student at Trinity College, Cambridge. And it would be another 200 years before scientists discovered the bacteria that caused the plague. But even without knowing exactly why, people were practicing some of the same things we do to avoid disease.

To ensure social distancing, Cambridge sent students home to continue their studies. For Newton, that meant going to Woolsthorpe Manor, the family estate a few miles northwest of Cambridge. He then acquired some prisms and experimented with them in his room, even going so far as to make a hole in his blinds so that only a small beam could pass through. From this came his theories on optics. It was one of the advantages of having time to meditate and experiment in comfort and without structured classes.

In London, a quarter of the population would die of the Plague between 1665 and 1666. It was one of the last major outbreaks in the 400 years that the Black Death ravaged Europe. Newton returned to Cambridge in 1667, theories in hand. Two years later, Newton became a professor.

For his part, during a quarantine of the plague of 1605, William Shakespeare wrote Macbeth and King Lear. “The plague was the most powerful force shaping his life and that of his contemporaries,” wrote Jonathan Bate, one of his many biographers. The plague closed London theaters. Shakespeare felt that writing was the best use of his time. “This meant that his days were free, for the first time since the early 1590s, to collaborate with other playwrights,” writes James S. Shapiro in his book The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606.

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