Newtonian Whiteboard

Digs & Discoveries March/April 2018

(National Trust)

Using a photographic technique to survey interior surfaces of Sir Isaac Newton’s childhood home, Woolsthorpe Manor, in Lincolnshire, England, conservator Chris Pickup has discovered a doodle of a windmill drawn by the scientist as a young man. The technology, called reflectance transformation imaging (RTI), creates a synthesis of multiple digital images, allowing researchers to identify features invisible to the naked eye. “Each RTI requires over 24 photographs, so each small section is time consuming,” Pickup explains. “However, once applied, it allows a deep level of analysis, and the software makes it possible to share files with experts anywhere in the world.”

Newton was born in 1642 and grew up in the house, returning in 1665 when he left Cambridge during an outbreak of the plague. The National Trust, which manages Woolsthorpe Manor, hopes that finding more of Newton’s illustrations will provide insight into the mind of the groundbreaking thinker. “The discovery could be the tip of the iceberg in terms of drawings waiting to be uncovered,” says Jannette Warrener, operations manager at Woolsthorpe. “We know he used the walls as a sketchpad as he explored the world around him, which suggests there are more to find.”