New Delhi: “I have passed the Matriculation Examination and studied up to the First Arts but was prevented from pursuing my studies further owing to several untoward circumstances. I have, however, been devoting all my time to Mathematics and developing the subject.”
These were the words of Srinivasa Ramanujan, in his letter of application for an accounts department clerk’s post at the Madras Port Trust in 1912.
Ramanujan was a self-taught mathematician who did ‘develop’ the subject, and in the process established himself as one of India’s greatest mathematical geniuses. He is known for his contributions to mathematical concepts such as number theory, analysis of infinite series, and continued fractions, among others.
Ramanujan has enriched world mathematics with more than 3,500 equations and formulas. Some of his most important contributions include the Riemann series, Divergent Series Theory, elliptic integrals, and Hypergeometric series.
In India, December 22 is observed annually as National Mathematics Day, to commemorate the birth anniversary of the legendary mathematician.
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A Short But Inspiring Life
Born in 1887, in Erode, Tamil Nadu, Ramanujan was an autodidact in mathematics, and taught himself trigonometry at the age of 12. He excelled in this branch of mathematics, and devised many theorems.
As a student Ramanujan didn’t do well in other subjects in school and college but he would perform independent research in mathematics.
He later began sending his work to British mathematicians.
In 1913, he received a breakthrough when Professor Godfrey Harold Hardy, one of the most revered mathematicians of all time, called him to London. Impressed by Ramanujan’s theorems, he started mentoring him in 1914.
Hardy got Ramanujan into Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1914, and three years later, the latter was elected to be a member of the London Mathematical Society. In 1918, his research in the Theory of Numbers and Elliptic Functions made him earn a fellowship of the Royal Society of London. He was one of the youngest people in history to achieve this feat, and was also the first Indian to become a fellow of Trinity College.
In 1919, he returned to India. His health began to deteriorate, and a year later, at 32 years of age, he died of tuberculosis.
5 Interesting Facts About Ramanujan
Maths prodigy, but…: Ramanujan was considered a prodigy in mathematics, but the same cannot be said about his proficiency in other subjects.
In 1904, Ramanujan finished secondary school, and became eligible for a scholarship to study at the Government Arts College, Kumbakonam. However, he could not secure the scholarship because he did not excel in non-mathematics subjects. He ran away from home at the age of 14, and enrolled in a college in Madras (now Chennai), where he did well only in mathematics and even failed his First Arts exam.
Ramajujan struggled with poverty and it was not until 1910, when he met Indian Mathematical Society secretary R. Ramachandra Rao, that his life changed for the better. Recognizing Ramanijan’s genius, Rao supported him financially.
The book that changed his life: Ramanujan reportedly got hold of a book in 1903 that piqued his interest in mathematics. The book, published in 1880 and revised in 1886, was George Shoobridge Carr’s ‘A Synopsis of Elementary Results in Pure and Applied Mathematics’. Ramanujan was only 15 then. It is said the thousands of theorems in the book, many of them presented with one-liner proofs or without them, greatly influenced the self-taught mathematician.
Full marks: Prof. Godfrey Harold Hardy, the British mathematician known for his achievements in number theory, had come up with a scale telling the mathematical ability of a person. The scale went from 0 to 100, and Hardy put himself at 25. Ramanujan was put at 100 on this scale, according to Britannica.com.
Used slate because paper was costly: Ramanujan, born in a Tamil Brahmin family, faced such poverty at home that he never had enough money to buy paper for his notes. He used slates, instead, for his calculations. A friend has once reportedly asked Ramanujan why his elbow was rough and black. The mathematician had explained that he made his notes on slate and used his elbow to wipe it because it was a waste of time looking for a piece of rag for the job. Asked why he didn’t use paper instead, Ramanujan had reportedly said he might require four reams of paper a month, and how he could find money to buy paper when managing two square meals was a problem.
The notebooks: Ramanujan left behind three notebooks and a bunch of papers with summaries and results, with little or no proofs. Even a hundred years after his death, mathematicians continue to work on the unpublished results of Ramanujan’s notebooks. Several papers written by mathematicians were inspired by the results from the notebooks.
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