Page last updated at 15:56 GMT, Monday, 18 January 2010

Newton's apple story goes online

Screenshot of the original manuscript of the story of Willian Stukeley's biography of Sir Isaac Newton (Royal Society)
People will be able to read the whole manuscript online

The original version of the story of Sir Isaac Newton and the falling apple has been made available online.

Newton recounted the story that inspired his theory of gravitation to scholar William Stukeley.

It then appeared in Stukeley's 1752 biography, Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton's Life.

The UK's Royal Society converted the fragile manuscript into an electronic book, which anybody with internet access will now be able to read.

The story of Newton and the apple... is based on a conversation between Newton and Stukeley
Martin Kemp
Art historian

In the story, Newton claimed to have been inspired by a falling apple in his garden to investigate the theory of gravitation.

Martin Kemp, emeritus professor of the history of art at Oxford University's Trinity College, UK, said that being able to see the manuscript in its original form, rather than rely on a transcript, was "incredibly valuable to historians".

"The story of Newton and the apple, which had gradually become debunked over the years. It is now clear, it is based on a conversation between Newton and Stukeley," he told BBC News.

"We needn't believe that the apple hit his head, but sitting in the orchard and seeing the apple fall triggered that work.

"It was a chance event that got him engaged with something he might have otherwise have shelved."

Turn the page

The Royal Society has created a "fully interactive" version of the manuscript, enabling people to turn its pages online.

The software allows readers to magnify and rotate pages, and to read commentary on much of the content.

Lord Rees, president of the Royal Society, said this would be as if online viewers were "holding the manuscript in front of them".

The society will, at the same time, make other treasures from its archive available online. These include Thomas Paine's iron bridge design, the philosopher John Locke's contribution to an early American constitution, and rare natural history illustrations from the 17th through to the 19th Centuries.

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