Scientists have discovered a drawing on the walls of the childhood home of Isaac Newton, thought to have been sketched by the celebrated British scientist as a young boy. Researchers using cutting-edge light technology have discovered a picture of a windmill next to the fireplace in the 17th-century manor’s downstairs Hall.
The drawing is thought to have been inspired by the building of a mill nearby during Newton’s childhood. The discovery adds a new layer of understanding to Newton’s life at Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire, where he was born the son of a yeoman farmer in 1642, and where he returned in 1665 at the peak of his scientific studies. It was here that Newton undertook his crucial experiment – splitting white light using a prism – and observed an apple fall from a tree, inspiring his law of universal gravitation.
Using Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), a technique that uses light to capture the shape and colour of a surface not visible to the naked eye, Chris Pickup from Nottingham Trent University in the UK was able to survey the walls of the manor in painstaking detail to discover this previously unseen wall drawing, believed to have been carved into the wall around 350 years ago.
“It’s amazing to be using light, which Newton understood better than anyone before him, to discover more about his time at Woolsthorpe,” said Pickup. “I hope that by using this technique we’re able to find out more about Newton as man and boy and shine a light on how his extraordinary mind worked,” he said. Newton was well known for sketching and making notes on the walls of his rooms as he developed his scientific and mechanical knowledge.
Several sketches, thought to be his, had previously been uncovered by tenants removing old wallpaper in the 1920s and 30s. “The young Newton was fascinated by mechanical objects and the forces that made them work. Paper was expensive, and the walls of the house would have been repainted regularly, so using them as a sketchpad as he explored the world around him would have made sense,” said Jim Grevatte, Illuminating Newton Programme Manager at Woolsthorpe Manor.
“This discovery could be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the drawings waiting to be uncovered, and it is fitting that we are using cutting edge science inspired by Newton’s work to reveal more about his childhood and his thinking,” said Grevatte.