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Physics in Quarantine

     The most highlighted topic of this year has been the novel coronavirus and the issues which have stemmed from this. As the fear of the pandemic's spread increases, so have the measures we have taken to protect ourselves. Notably, there is the quarantine that is being implemented in many state legislatures. 

     In 1665, a similar epidemic, The Great Plague of London, encouraged individuals to stay within their own homes. This epidemic was one of many resulting from the bacterium Yersinia pestis which started the Black Death; the Great Plague was one of the major epidemics stemming from the Black Death in London. Cities surrounding the area started to initiate lockdowns to avoid increasing victims of the pandemic. One notable individual caught in this situation was a young 23-year-old student attending Cambridge University. This student had gone home to his family’s farm many miles away from affected areas when his school had decided to cancel all classes. While the typical person might have used such a time to rest and relax, he had much greater ambitions. This student was Isaac Newton, and the major strides he made in this time of quarantine helped to pave a path for the entire field of physics.

A Need for Greater Tools

     17th-century physicists were limited in what tools they could use to describe the world in terms of mathematics. Algebra and geometry were not sufficient for accurately modeling certain phenomena that were crucial to understanding physics. Isaac Newton was aware of this and decided to develop advanced mathematics for the purpose of describing the world. This advanced math is now known as calculus, an efficient way to model change. What was surprising about his developments in calculus was that Newton had been deriving and implementing his knowledge of calculus at the same rate a student today would learn it. Although there is controversy surrounding who truly innovated calculus between Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibnitz, it is acknowledged that both discovered it independently and that Newton was able to apply it for his discoveries.

The Apple Tree

     The legend goes that an apple fell on Isaac Newton’s head, which led him to make groundbreaking discoveries about the properties of gravity. Although it is unknown if an apple really did fall on his head, it is known that he started his journey of discovery when he started to observe apples falling from an apple tree on his family’s farm. Newton had been interested in what caused the apple to fall down. He concluded that there must be a force that the Earth itself was exerting on the apple, however, he also thought to himself that the apple exerted a non-observable force onto the Earth as well. With this new concept of gravity, he was able to explain all sorts of ideas and theories that physicists had been trying to explain for centuries. When thinking about the forces exerted between the earth and the apple, he also wondered if it was applicable to objects at farther distances, such as the moon. Since the moon was not falling towards the Earth, he was led to believe that the moon’s velocity allowed for it to constantly fall around the Earth, rather than towards it. With the power of calculus, which allowed him to accurately describe the acceleration properties of gravity, he was able to develop a general equation that essentially stated that this gravitational force was inherent within all masses. This equation would be known as Newton’s law of universal gravitation, and it would help us calculate the gravitational force between two objects.


     Throughout his time in quarantine, Isaac Newton was able to change the landscape of how we describe the universe through physics. He was able to create an entirely new field of mathematics called calculus which many students and scientists today use to describe a multitude of situations pertaining to change. With this powerful tool, he was able to discover universal gravitation which gave physicists an idea of a force that resided within the nature of mass. With this new discovery, natural satellites and other celestial phenomena were now explainable under the same concept that made things fall on Earth. The universal law of gravitation would also inspire Newton to create the laws of motion – another foundational pillar within the classical mechanics branch of physics. Students today study the subjects of calculus and physics where they find that Newton’s discoveries aid them in rationally understanding the universe in a logical manner.


     In this restricting time of quarantine, it is difficult to stay productive as the world seems to have slowed down. However, there have been many notable people who have taken advantage of their times at home, with a few being William Shakespeare, Thomas Nashe, and Isaac Newton. Although quarantine itself is not going to instantaneously spark some sort of idea with immediate results, the significance of being able to stay productive during quarantine can improve the character of ambition. Being able to genuinely work hard during a worldwide pandemic shows that although the world may be stopping, you are not willing to be slowed down with it; the noted example being Newton’s ability to stay productive even during a quarantine which would pave the way for others to understand many aspects of the world around them and the universal attraction in between.

Sources: “Career of Isaac Newton.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.,

Smith, George. “Isaac Newton.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 19 

Dec. 2007, … 

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