How Emilie du Chatelet challenged Newton's Law
Chatelet was born in Paris, France in the year 1706. She grew up at the time when women were highly discriminated. In fact, they were not allowed to get a proper education, publish their own work or engage in science. Despite these challenges, she managed to translate Newton's Law into the French language. This enabled French scientists to read and understand Newton's work. During those days, girls didn't go to school. However, unlike other girls, Chatelet had many advantages since she was born in a wealthy family. Her father was highly influential since he worked at Louis XIV's court as the chief of protocol. In addition, some scientists and mathematicians occasionally visited him since he was a member of the French aristocratic society. These factors motivated du Chatelet to read and engage in science.
At that time, the world of science and mathematics was dominated by men. Unlike other women of those days, she was too ambitious and too intellectual. Chatelet struggled to educate herself so that she could get more informed like most men. She read higher mathematics and complex physics by herself. She lamented that denying girls education was cutting back half of humanity. She wrote that if she was the king, she could allow women to participate in all human rights. Chatelet got engaged to Voltaire when she was 26 years old. In the 18th century, scientists were divided since those in England supported Sir Isaac Newton. On the other hand, scientists in Paris and other parts of the world supported Rene Descartes' theory. They disagreed about which theory should be considered a truly scientific theory. A French translation of Newton's law was not available at that time. This was a big problem since some French scientist didn't understand it and refused to support it.
Voltaire supported Newton's Law and criticized the Paris's Academy of Sciences which believed in the Cartesian theory of magical ethereal whirlpools that keep planets in their orbits. He showed that Newton's theory was superior and it was based on reliable Mathematics. Voltaire and du Chatelet collaboratively translated the Newton's Principia Mathematica. The translation was a basic explanation of Newton's Law However, Voltaire got full credit for the work while du Chatelet was just appreciated in the introduction.
Chatelet knew that she was not recognized or appreciated. She decided to translate the entire work including all the Science and mathematics in Newton's Law She was 41 years old when she discovered that she was pregnant but at that time there was unreliable gynecological care. Chatelet knew that she could probably die when giving birth. She decided to translate the work for about 18 hours a day so that she could finish it on time. She gave birth to a daughter but died one week later. Fortunately, she had completed her translation of Newton's Law. The work was later published with Voltaire's introduction and remained the only French-language version of Newton's work for many years. The translation helped distinguished scientists across the world to understand Newton's law and accept it. Chatelet and her husband ended one of the biggest disagreement about mysteries of the cosmos in Continental Europe.