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Whipple Library

Department of History and Philosophy of Science

Newton opticks cover

Opticks : or, A treatise of the reflexions, refractions, inflexions and colours of light, by Sir Isaac Newton
London : Printed for Sam. Smith, and Benj. Walford…, 1704
STORE 70:11

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) was 22 when Boyle’s Experiments and considerations touching colours was first published. Newton’s notes from the same year contain extensive commentary on Boyle’s colour studies, and include attempts at replicating prism experiments described by Boyle. These would lead to Newton’s revolutionary new theory of light and colour, published in 1672, in which he claimed that experiments with prisms proved that white light was comprised of light of seven distinct colours. Although this research received much criticism, Newton continued to work on optics and light for decades, finally publishing Opticks in 1704 as a definitive testament of his findings. It became the most influential analysis of the physical behaviour of light and remained the standard work on light and colour into the mid-19th century.

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Newton’s arguments, which were based on the understanding that light was comprised of corpuscles, would remain profoundly influential for many generations. Optical researchers continued to debate the Newtonian model of light well into the 19th century, until the wave theory gained widespread acceptance. His insight that white light was composed of light of many colours left numerous other questions about the fundamental nature of colour unresolved.

This copy was bought by Whipple in July 1932.

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