If Newton had had an Apple…

Isaac Newton. Just imagine what he might have achieved if he had had an Apple iMac!

Isaac Newton. Just imagine what he might have achieved if he had had an Apple iMac! Image from Wikipedia

Wikipedia kindly tells me that:

It was in the north cloister [of Trinity College , Cambridge] that Isaac Newton stamped his foot to time the echoes and determined the speed of sound for the first time.

By timing the echo (0.36 s) and measuring the distance (63 m) to and from the end wall of the cloisters, Newton was able to estimate the speed of sound. I have been told that he timed the sound by adjusting a clock so that it ‘ticked’ once in just the same time as it took the sound to travel along the cloisters. Then he let the clock run next to a clock that ticked in real seconds to see how how long it took for (say) 100 ticks.

But imagine if he, like me, had an Apple iMac?

He would have measured the distance by using Google Maps:

Google maps

Google maps image of Trinity College using the distance measuring tool determine the length of the cloisters of Nevile Court.

He would have measured the time by simply recording the event and analysing a slowed down version in iMovie.

iMovie Screenshot

iMovie: capable of precision timing measurements

If he had made a precision measurement he would have discovered his theory about sound was wrong. But he didn’t, and he thought his measurements confirmed his ideas. If only he had had an Apple iMac!

Below is a movie of the very cloisters where Newton performed this experiment – and the door at the end is where he lived – and in which rooms he created ideas that changed how we all see the world. Enjoy. Many thanks to Matthew and his friends for a nice day out.

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3 Responses to “If Newton had had an Apple…”

  1. Andres Muñiz (@Andresinmp) Says:

    Or he could have used open street maps. http://www.openstreetmap.org/?lat=52.206774&lon=0.116362&zoom=18&layers=C
    Supporting British made software (imperial college).
    And Openshot: for video editing: http://openshot.org/
    Both available for free (as in beer and freedom) on any computer.
    could newton afford a mac?

  2. protonsforbreakfast Says:

    Well said. But that doesn’t make for quite such a neat headline … sorry. M

  3. Huw Price Says:

    I was showing a guest around Trinity last month, and told him this story and clapped once to illustrate it. Immediately, he said “About 0.3 seconds, that seems too short.” (He had estimated the distance and calculated what the time should be, on the fly, as well as estimating the time.) Initially he thought that the echo must be coming from somewhere closer than the library, but we paced out the distance and he said “I was wrong about the time, it’s closer to 0.4.”

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