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Isaac Newton: From Quarantine to a “Year of Wonders”

At the moment, some students have been forced to leave their friends and classmates behind due to the current pandemic. These students are now at home and isolated. It can seem wholly unfair and depressing. But the story of another student, in a similar predicament, can hopefully provide students who are struggling to adjust with a more inspirational perspective.
Isaac Newton’s Quarantine Experience


In 1665, “social distancing” orders emptied campuses throughout England, as the bubonic plague raged, killing 100,000 people in London, in just 18 months. Isaac Newton was one of the thousands of students forced leave school and return indefinitely to his home.
Away from university life, he was not bound to a curriculum so Newton decided to dive into discovering and developing his ideas. According to The Washington Post: “Without his professors to guide him, Newton apparently thrived.” At home, he built bookshelves and created a small office for himself, filling a blank notebook with his ideas and calculations. Absent the distractions of typical daily life, Newton’s creativity flourished. During this time away he discovered differential and integral calculus, formulated a theory of universal gravitation, and explored optics, experimenting with prisms and investigating light.


Newton biographer James Gleick writes: “The plague year was his transfiguration. Solitary and almost incommunicado, he became the world’s paramount mathematician.” (p. 34). Newton himself would sayabout this forced time away from university life: ‘For in those days I was in the prime of my age for invention & minded Mathematics & Philosophy more than at any time since.’”
When The Great Plague ended Isaac Newton returned to Trinity College to finish his studies and then became a professor. Thanks to this time away from university he was able to make his early discoveries that would form the foundation of his historic career for years to come and eventually become some of the greatest scientific breakthroughs in the history.


While it is true that this is an uncommon a uncertain period of our lives due to the pandemic, it can also be seen as a time for reflection and discovery. The sudden change to the rhythm of our daily lives and the associated isolation could unleash our imaginations and inventiveness in ways that might have been impossible under ordinary circumstances.


Rather than being seen as a low-point in our lives, this “social distancing” experience could be the peak of your creativity and production. This could be the time when you formulate your greatest ideas and do your best work. This could be your year of wonders.