Newton's apple seeds come home to the Royal Society for International Science Centre Day

10 November 2016

Seeds from Newton’s famous apple tree – the original tree which inspired the 12th President of the Royal Society to formulate his theory of gravity – will take root at the Royal Society as part of the celebrations to launch the first UNESCO International Science Centres and Science Museum Day (10 November 2016). The project is led by The UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres (ASDC).

The Royal Society is one of 30 UK science centres and museums who will grow the seeds – creating a country-wide apple orchard using apple pips donated by the National Trust’s Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire, the birthplace and family home of Sir Isaac Newton – and site of the famous tree, which still flourishes today.

Royal Society Librarian, Keith Moore, said:

“We’re very excited to be taking part in this wonderful project. It will bring to life – literally - a key anecdote in the history of science with the propagation of Newton’s famous apple tree at science centres across the UK. Isaac Newton remains one of the most famous scientists the world has ever known and his apple tree has a popular significance in marking his eureka moment in formulating the Universal Law of Gravitation.

“Newton’s telling of the story is held in our archive at the Royal Society alongside drawings of the Woolsthorpe tree and wooden fragments from that original. Some of these pieces were sent into space to orbit the earth on the International Space Station in 2010. It seems fitting that apple seeds from the same tree will join them at the Royal Society - where we’ll do our best to grow a new apple tree.”

Sir Isaac Newton, who would later become of the Royal Society’s most famous presidents, was sat under an apple tree, when a falling apple inspired his revolutionary theories about gravity. His friend and fellow scientist, William Stukeley, recorded the historic light bulb moment in his 1752 biography, ‘Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton’s Life’:

“…he told me, he was just in the same situation, as when formerly, the notion of gravitation came into his mind. Why sh[oul]d that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground, thought he to himself; occasion’d by the fall of an apple, as he sat in a contemplative mood…”

This most celebrated anecdote in science exists as a fragile paper manuscript in the Royal Society’s archives, but it can be viewed in a fully interactive format on the Royal Society’s website.

The project has been made possible through a partnership with The UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres (ASDC), the national charity that brings together the UK’s major science engagement organisations. Together UK Science centres and museums involve 20 million children and adults every year with science through their hands-on science programmes, schools science programmes and community activities.

The CEO of ASDC Dr Penny Fidler said "We are delighted to be able to celebrate the day by sharing Newtons's apples seeds with families and the public through the impressive network of UK science centres. As a nation and a global society we have some major challenges ahead that will take scientific creativity and entrepreneurship to solve. Science Centres and Museums are at the heart of bringing the latest science to the public across the UK and helping children and adults to get involved with science in a hands-on and inspirational way, building the skills we need to create a better world for the future."