Remembering mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan

Updated: 03 January, 2017 10:21 IST | mid-day online correspondent |

On the 129th birth anniversary of math genius Srinivasa Ramanujan, we look at some interesting facts and trivia about the mathematician's life and career

Srinivasa Ramanujan
Srinivasa Ramanujan

>> Srinivasa Ramanujan displayed advanced mathematical ability since age 11 after reading a book on advanced trigonometry written by S. L. Loney, lent by two college students, who were lodgers at his home, which he mastered by age 13 and discovered sophisticated mathematical theorems on his own.

>> Ramanujan received merit certificates and academic awards since age 14, which continued throughout his school career. He further assisted the school in the logistics of assigning its 1200 students to its 35-odd teachers.

>> Srinivasa Ramanujan was able to complete mathematical exams in half the allotted time and was able to become proficient in geometry, infinite series and cubic equations. He even went on to find his own method to solve the quartic in 1902 and tried to solve the quintic a year later despite not knowing that the quintic could not be solved by radicals.

>> G.S. Carr's book A Synopsis of Elementary Results in Pure and Applied Mathematics, is widely credited as a key element in awakening the genius of Ramanujan. The book, which contained a collection of 5000 theorems was studied in great detail by the mathematician, 16-years-old at the time in 1903. He had obtained the library-loaned copy from a friend.

>> The number 1729, known as the Hardy-Ramanujan number has an interesting story behind it. English mathematician G.H. Hardy, who was collaborating with Ramanujan at the time, went to visit the latter, who was recuperating from an illness at a hospital in Putney, England. Hardy had ridden in a taxi numbered 1729 and felt that the number seemed 'rather dull' to him. Ramanujan assured him that the number is quite fascinating as it is 'the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways.' Generalizations of this idea have created the notion of "taxicab numbers" and the 'Carmichael number'.

>> Srinivasa Ramanujan's life has been adapted in various forms of media including films, books, documentaries, plays and more. The most notable of these include the upcoming film, 'The Man Who Knew Infinity', an adaptation of a book by the same title written by Robert Kanigel. It stars, 'Slumdog Millionaire' actor Dev Patel as Ramanujan. A 2014 film titled, 'Ramanujan', an Indo-British collaboration directed by Gnana Rajasekaran starring newcomer Abhinay Vaddi as the mathematician is another honourable mention. Ramanujan was named in a scene from the Oscar-winning 1997 film, 'Good Will Hunting', when protagonist Matt Damon's character was compared to him. The popular American television series 'Numb3rs' has the character Dr. Amita Ramanujan, a professor of applied mathematics, named after Ramanujan. 

>> Although Ramanujan was gifted in mathematics, during his time as a student at Pachaiyappa's College in Madras (now Chennai), he performed poorly in subjects such as physiology. After failing his Fellow of Arts exam in December 1906 and again a year later, Srinivasa Ramanujan left college and continued to pursue independent research in mathematics. He lived in extreme poverty at this time.

>> Srinivasa Ramanujan experienced a lifetime of ill-health, which culminated in his death at the young age of 32. He developed hydrocele testis, an abnormal swelling of the tunica vaginalis, an internal membrane in the testicle after his marriage in 1909. His family was unable to procure expenses for the surgical procedure that would cure this condition. A doctor however volunteered to do the surgery for free in January 1910. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis and a severe vitamin deficiency and was confined to a sanatorium during his time in England, which could possibly be because of his inability to acquire vegetarian food during the First World War, combined with stress and his obsessive and erratic work schedule.

>> Ramanujan was deeply spiritual and credited his mathematical ability to his family his family goddess, Mahalakshmi of Namakkal. He apparently claimed to dream of blood drops that symbolised her male consort, Narasimha, after which he would receive visions of scrolls of complex mathematical content unfolding before his eyes.

>> Ramanujan was initially unwilling to come to England, which strained his friendship to G.H. Hardy. This was partly due to his family members opposing the idea of him travelling abroad. He was able to set sail to the country only after his mother claimed to have a vivid dream in which the family Goddess, commanded her "to stand no longer between her son and the fulfilment of his life's purpose".

>> Three of Srinivasa Ramanujan's notebooks, which contained results to complicated mathematical equations and problems were published as a two-volume set in 1957 by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research as a photocopy edition of the original manuscripts, in his own handwriting.

First Published: 22 December, 2016 13:50 IST

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