Sir Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727)

Famous for his 'discovery' of gravity, depressive mathematician, Isaac Newton, took the world of science by storm and was something of a Stephen Hawking in his day.

Born in January 1643 in Woolsthrorpe, Lincolnshire, little Isaac's was an unhappy childhood: his wealthy father died three months prior to his birth and his mother remarried and left him to be brought up by his grandparents. The angry young man didn't like his stepfather and made threats against him and his mother. To add to his rebellious teenage years, Newton embarked on an affair with a young woman to whom he became engaged, before casting her aside for his studies at Cambridge which he began in 1661.

It was at Cambridge that he became interested in physics, mathematics, optics and astronomy. Newton worked hard at Cambridge but in 1665 a plague epidemic forced the closure of the university and so Newton returned to Woolsthorpe where he set his mind to work on optics, mathematics, and most importantly, gravity. In 1667 Cambridge reopened and Newton returned and was made a fellow of Trinity College. In 1668 he was made only the second Lucasian professor of mathematics, a post currently held by Stephen Hawking. It was at the this time that Newton invented the reflecting telescope, a feat which made the Royal Society sit up and take note and make him a fellow in 1672. Again around this time, Sir Isaac was conducting a series of experiments which resulted in the discovery that white light was in fact made up of the colours of the rainbow. This had been done by refracting a beam of light through a glass prism, which is probably the world's most famous experiment thanks to its inclusion on the cover of Pink Floyd's album, The Dark Side of the Moon.

In 1687, with the help of his astronomer friend Edmond Halley, Newton published his greatest work, the 'Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica' ('Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy'). This showed how a universal force, gravity, applied to all objects in all parts of the universe. Contrary to popular belief, Newton's discoveries on gravity didn't come about from an apple falling on his head while he sat pondering the nature of things.

The was still more to come from Newton, who in 1689 was elected Member of Parliament for Cambridge University. Despite his brilliance with physics and mathematics, Newton was said to be something of a passive MP who did little more in his time in the House of Commons than complain about the cold and draughts. In 1696, Newton was appointed warden of the Royal Mint, and decided to settle in London. Newton took his position at the Royal Mint very seriously indeed and campaigned against corruption and inefficiency in the organisation. Newton was elected president of the Royal Society in 1703, and was knighted in 1705.He died in 1727.

Sir Isaac Newton makes it to the Great Britons list for his discovery of gravity, without which we'd all have to wear much heavier shoes.