Wednesday, 16 May 2007

MAD SCIENTIST - Newton's 'elixir of life'

Gravity man Sir Isaac Newton (1643–1727) has a lot in common with Harry Potter’s nemesis, Lord Voldemort.
Instead of focusing all his attentions on unravelling the theory of gravity, optics and laying the foundations for calculus, the Englishman had a long-time obsession with alchemy.
For more than 30 years, the Cambridge University academic sought the “philosopher’s stone”, also known as the elixir of life.
While this may sound like he wanted to live forever – and in a way he has through his scientific discoveries – Newton was chasing every alchemist’s dream. His aim was to turn base metals into gold or silver, a goal which remains the stuff of fairytales.
Newton was an incredibly focused thinker, who would sometimes lock himself in his laboratory for six weeks at a time, often forgetting to sleep or eat.
His experiments were also dangerous, especially when he was exploring the world of optics.
He once inserted a large needle “betwixt my eye and the bone as near to the backside of my eye as I could” to test another scientist’s theory that light was a pressure pulsating through the ether.
Thankfully for all of us, Newton didn’t suffer any lasting injuries from his self-inflicted tests, which now come with a warning – don’t try this at home.

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