Isaac Newton Short Stories
This is a part of the Eureka! Stories web site.
These are stories for children about famous historical scientists. They are
under constant development, so check back for additions.
Copyright 1998 by Doug Craigen
All rights reserved
Isaac and the Bully
Isaac Newton was a shy, quiet boy growing up on a farm in England 300
years ago. He was not a very good student and nobody paid much attention to
him. Nobody that is, except the school bully. One day the bully punched Isaac
in the stomach. That hurt, and that got Isaac very mad! He pulled himself up
straight and fought back. Isaac pushed the bully onto the ground and rubbed his
face in the mud. All the other kids hated the bully and came and cheered for Isaac.
So Isaac taught the bully a lesson, but he wasn't satisfied with that. Now
that he knew he could fight better than the bully, he wanted to prove that he could
do anything better than the bully. So he started paying attention to school and
studying hard. He was soon the top of his class, proving he was smarter than the
Isaac Newton kept on studying and when he grew up he became a math professor
at Cambridge University. He discovered lots of important things and is one of the
most famous scientists who ever lived.
Isaac and the Wind
If Isaac was so smart, then why didn't he always do well at school? Well, how
well somebody does at school isn't the whole story about them. Its good to
remember that just because somebody has trouble with something at school, it
doesn't mean they are stupid. Isaac Newton proved that!
I expect that one reason he didn't do well for a long time was that he was always
thinking about things. Its just that usually the things he was thinking about
weren't the things other people wanted him to think about.
For example, one time there was a terrible wind storm on the farm. His mother
was worried that the wind might break gates, doors and shutters. She sent Isaac out
to check all over the farm buildings and fences to make sure there wasn't anything
flapping in the wind.
Isaac went out, but he didn't come back. He looked at the strong wind blowing things
all around and thought "I wonder ..."
His mother waited and waited, then went
out looking for him. When she found him, he was jumping up off a fence over and over
to see how far the wind would carry him. He had gotten thinking about how strong the
wind was, and forgot completely about everything else.
Isaac loved the wind, so of course he loved kites. He even used to fly kites in
the dark. He would tie a small lamp to the tail of the kite so he could see it up
in the night sky. However, people were very superstitious when he lived. When the
neighbours saw a light floating in the sky at night they were worried about ghosts,
or witches, or other things. When Isaac heard about this he laughed, but he
decided he better stop flying the kite at night.
Comets and Apple Trees
One day Isaac was reading a book under an apple tree on the farm. An apple fell
out of the tree - bonk! Ow!
Now, for most people that would be the end of the story, but not for Isaac. Not
for somebody who just couldn't stop asking why all the time.
Why did the apple fall out of the tree? Does everything fall? What makes things
fall? Can anything stop things from falling? Are the sun, moon, and stars falling?
Why don't they ever hit the ground?
So many questions. Newton spent many years answering these questions by thinking
and doing experiments. He made up the law of gravity. According to this
law everything pulled everything else to itself by a force called gravity. How
strong that force is depends on how heavy the things are and how close together.
So even two apples pull toward each other. But, the force is so small that you
need a very careful experiment to measure it. The reason that things fall toward
the ground is that the earth we live on is so very heavy, and we are so close to it.
Newton's law of gravity not only explained how things fall on earth, but how
planets move around the sun and how moons move around planets. A friend of his,
Edmund Halley, decided to try Newton's theory on comets. People had been studying comets
for hundreds of years without figuring them out, so he decided to study their reports
and compare them to Newton's theories.
Up til then people had thought that comets just came and went, and that nobody could
know when or why. But Newton's law of gravity gave rules that Halley could use to
study the records of comets. He found some reports of a big bright comet that he was
sure was the same one, coming back every 75 years. He predicted when it would come
If anybody still didn't believe Newton, then the appearance of Halley's Comet
just when Halley had predicted it using Newtons ideas was enough to convince them. Halley's
comet has come a few times since then, always right on schedule. You'll be able to see
it on its next trip near the sun and earth when you're old enough to be a grandparent.
Newton and Hooke
Do you know anybody who always has to be first? Maybe its your brother or sister, or a
friend. When you say you learned something, they say "I already knew that". When
you're going to do something, they say "I already did that".
There was another famous scientist named Robert Hooke who was very jealous of Netwon.
Whenever Newton announced he had discovered something, Hooke would say "I already
discovered that first, I just didn't tell anybody yet." This made Newton very mad.
Everybody makes mistakes sometimes, even very smart people like Newton. One time
when Newton made a mistake, Hooke was the first to discover the mistake and tell
everybody about it. Newton was mad and embarrassed. He didn't like to make mistakes, but
he really hated that it was Hooke who figured out the mistake. Newton said that he would
never tell anybody about his discoveries again. He didn't want to ever have Hooke catch
him making a mistake again. In a while though, Newton realized how silly this was and
started telling about his discoveries again.
Newton wrote a big book called Principia. This book told all about how things
push and pull, and gave lots of examples of how machines work and how things like planets
and comets move. It was a very important book, and scientists still like to read it,
even though it is more than 300 years old. But guess what happened when he was writing it.
Hooke found out about what he was writing and said "I already discovered that!"
Newton was so angry that he decided not to write the book. It was a good thing that he
again realized how silly it is to let somebody else bother you that much. He did finish
writing it, and even mentioned some things that Hooke had done.
All the Colors of Light
Another important thing that Newton did was to figure out a lot about how light works.
One day he bought a prism at the Stourbridge Fair. (This is a piece of glass shaped
like a triangle.) He had it sitting on his desk, and noticed how when the sun shone on it,
he got different colors out. This made him very curious. Does this change the light, or
does the sunlight have lots of colors that the prism puts into different places? How does
the prism do it?
To find the answers, Newton had to do some experiments. He first used his blinds to get
a very thin sunbeam to hit the prism. This was important - to control the light that was
coming in so that he knew exactly what he was starting with. He discovered that the
separation of light was even clearer. There was red, then orange, then yellow, then green,
and then blue.
Newton was pretty sure that what was happening was that the light from the sun had
all these colors in it, and that what the prism was doing was bending them all to go into
slightly different directions. To test this he got two prisms and a card with a hole in it.
He used the first prism to get the sunlight to make different colors. Then he would choose
a color and put the hole so than only that color went through into the next prism. He
then had a very thin line of red, yellow or some other color of light going to the second
He discovered that when the light came out of the other side of the next prism, it was still
the same color as when it went in. So the prism doesn't change the light's color. What the
prism did do was to bend the path the light went on, so that it hit a different place than
when the prism wasn't there. When he tried different colors of light he found that the prism
bent them all a little bit differently. That was why light that looked white, which had all
the colors in it, made different colors when it went through the prism - the different colors
all came out of it in slightly different directions.