Thursday, March 8, 2012

Isaac Newton's Tree Lives On as Does the Academic Family Tree

My husband, who has a PhD in physics from Brown University, shared with me today that department's annual 2011 newsletter and, in particular, a fabulous article on Isaac Newton, his discovery of gravity, falling apples, and even the bubonic plaque and the role that it played (or legend has it) .

The article is featured above with the photos, compliments of the newsletter.

What is truly amazing, is that there is an apple tree outside of the Barus and Holley (B&H) building at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, that has a graft of a tree that was a descendant of a tree from Newton's orchard! I had my office in B&H when I was a graduate student in Applied Math at Brown, specializing in Operations Research.

Every year, Professor Humphrey Maris distributes the fruit from this apple tree to his physics students in order to inspire them.

According to the article: On October 7, the Physics Department gathered to commemorate the legendary fall of an apple. A dozen years ago, Humphrey Maris planted a graft of a descendant of the apple tree believed to have inspired Sir Isaac Newton’s universal law of gravitation. The tree, located near the steps of Barus & Holley, is an antique strain called “Flower of Kent.” Each fall, Professor Maris harvests the fruit it bears to share with his students.

Legend has it that the bubonic plague played a peripheral role in Newton’s seminal moment. Newton was a student at Trinity College in Cambridge when the plague swept across Europe, reaching Cambridge in 1665 and forcing the university to close. He returned to Woolsthorpe Manor, his family’s home in Lincolnshire,
England, where he observed apples falling in the garden.

I had earlier written that I could trace my academic genealogy back to Newton, with the help of Professor Mike Trick's great research.

Nice to know that we can not only go back to Newton in terms of our academic lineage and academic family tree but also forward in terms of Newton's apples!