Isaac Newton receives Jean Bernoulli’s 6 month time-limit problem, solves problem before going to bed that same night

As much as Isaac Newton is revered today, there was wide dispute about his achievements during his lifetime. Although he did develop the mathematical field of calculus to help describe planetary motion, his fellow mathematician and rival Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz developed his own calculus right around the same time. Leibnitz and his colleague Johann Bernoulli certainly heard about Newton, but doubted his ability, so they devised a test.

On this day, January 29, in 1697, Isaac Newton received a copy of a mathematical challenge put out publicly for anyone to solve. The object was “To find the curve connecting two points, at different heights and not on the same vertical line, along which a body acted upon only by gravity will fall in the shortest time.”

Leibitz and Bernoulli announced the challenge in 1696; a full year before Newton got a hold of it. The original time limit of six months was extended to one year for lack of any responses. Six more months past before Newton received the papers. He began working on the problem shortly after 4pm; by 4am he had the solution.