Isaac Newton ‘graffiti’ discovered in historic English country house

A painting of Sir Isaac Newton by Sir Godfrey Kneller dated 1689.

(Sir Godfrey Kneller)

Towering thinker Sir Isaac Newton cut a now-barely visible doodle of a windmill in a stone wall in his home, according to a press release from the National Trust.

The drawing was discovered in Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire, England,is the house where Newton was born in 1642, said the National Trust,which protects the house and other heritage sites in the United Kingdom.

Newton is famous for his laws of motion, theory of the universal gravitationand an experiment that involved shooting sunlight through a prism to create a rainbow effect (and to inspire a very famous Pink Floyd album cover). But before Newton was a Sir, he was a boy — and apparently, that boy had a thing for drawing on the walls. [The Mysterious Physics of 7 Everyday Things]

Chris Pick-up, an independent conservator and phd student at Nottingham Trent University in England, made the discovery while investigating the manor. Pickup, used a photographic technique called reflectance transformation imaging (RTI). By bathing the walls of the mansion in the light of several different directions, Pick-up was able to capture details of the surfaces that would otherwise be invisible to the naked eye, including the vague outlines of Newton’s alleged doodle.

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“It is great to be with the help of light, which Newton understood better than anyone before him, to find out more about his time in Woolsthorpe,” Pickup says in the press release. “I hope that through the use of this technique, we are able to learn more about Newton as a man and a boy, and shine a light on how his extraordinary mind worked.”

New light technology has revealed graffiti is thought to have been drawn by a young Isaac Newton on the walls @NTWoolsthorpe:

— The National Trust (@nationaltrust) December 8, 2017

Young Newton

Newton was born on the estate, on christmas day, 1642, and spent the first few years of his life in the house. Decades later, in 1665, Newton returned to Woolsthorpe when the University of Cambridge, where he was studying, is closed due to an outbreak of the plague. It was at Woolsthorpe that Newton performed many of his experiments with light and optics, including the famous work with prisms that led him to the conclusion of white light contains all other colors in combination. An apple tree still standing in the nearby orchard is said to be the tree that inspired Newton to develop his law of universal gravity after watching an apple fall from the branches to the grass below.

The newly identified drawing is thought to have been inspired by a mill that was built in the vicinity of the manor during Newton’s childhood. The construction of a mechanical object would have probably stoked the boy’s curiosity, the National Trust said.

“The young Newton was fascinated by mechanical objects and the forces that make them work,” Jim Grevatte, a program manager for the Relieve of Newton series in Woolsthorpe Manor, said in the release.”Paper was expensive, and the walls of the house would be re-painted regularly, so that to use them as a sketch pad as he discovers the world around him would have made sense.”

Newton-age drawings were discovered on the manor walls in the 1920’s and 1930’s, after several farm tenants peeled the old wallpaper. In 1752, Newton’s friend and biographer, William Stukeley wrote that the walls and ceilings of the Newton’s house “of drawings, which he [Newton] had made with charcole. There were birds, animals, people, ships, plants, mathematical figures, circles, and triangles.”

There was “scarce a board in the partitions about the room,” that Newton had not scrawled on, Stukeley wrote.

Originally published on Live Science.

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