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Isaac Newton - The Last Magician

Date: 12/04/2013

Sir Isaac Newton transformed how we understand the universe. A biographical documentary featuring the AHRC-funded Newton Project will be broadcast on BBC Two in the UK at 9.00 pm on Friday 12th April 2013. This 60-minute biography, part of the BBC's Genius Of Invention season, reveals a much more complex figure by interviewing experts and delving into his own writings and those of his contemporaries. Newton emerges as an often divisive figure, one who lived a largely solitary life. In the secrecy of his study and laboratory, we find that he also delved into heretical religion, alchemy and the occult.

Funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, allowed the Newton Project to publish all Newton's private and public writings, as well as making links to the books he referenced which are now in the library of Trinity College Cambridge. Since October 2001, the project has added some four million words of Newton's unpublished writings and has expanded into the publication of mathematical, scientific, personal and biographical material. The most recent element of this work has been to release transcriptions of all of Newton's religious writings.

By the age of 21, Newton had rejected 2,000 years of scientific orthodoxy to develop his own insights through a relentless - and often dangerous – series of experiments. From his obsessions with light and gravity, to alchemy and biblical texts, Newton held no truth – or text – so sacred that it could not be questioned. His work put him at odds with fellow scientists and led to dark periods of isolation throughout his life.

But his genius could not be denied: he rose through the scientific ranks to become the President of the Royal Society and one of the most influential scientists in the world. His heretical religious views and his obsession with alchemy remained a closely guarded secret in his lifetime. After his death, his unpublished alchemical research and documents relating to his heretical views were buried to protect his reputation. They remained largely hidden until 1936 when they were purchased by the economist John Maynard Keynes. Keynes revealed that Newtown was a much more complex man than history had allowed. The programme concludes that Newton's secret obsession with alchemy helped him to achieve some of his greatest scientific insights.

For More information on tonight's programme please visit the BBC Programme webpage.

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