The student was
Srinivasa Ramanujan, the genius who introduced the concept of zero
to the world. Ramanujan was born Erode in Tamil Nadu, India on December
22, 1887. His mathematical genius began to show at a very early
age and soon senior students began to haunt his house for
clarifying doubts. When he was merely thirteen years of age, he
mastered a book on Trigonometry. So taken by the subject was he
that he launched his own research work. He put forward theorems
and formulas that had been discovered earlier by great
mathematicians but were not covered in the book.
real turning point that triggered off his own creations came two years
later, when a friend introduced the book Synopsis
of Elementary Results in Pure and Applied Mathematics by George
Shoobridge Carr to Ramanujan. Where any other person at the age of fifteen
may have recoiled from the book, Ramanujan became delighted at the
introduction. He began solving problems
given in the book. With the floodgates now open, ideas began to pour
forth. Such was the gush of ideas
that Ramanujan found it difficult to write them all down. Can you hazard a
guess on the number of papers that Ramanujan required per month for
jotting his ideas? Two thousand!
He scribbled his results in loose sheets
and notebooks. In fact, before he went abroad for pursuing his studies at
the Cambridge University, he had filled three notebooks with his jottings,
which later came to be known as Ramanujan’s Frayed
father, a clerk, however, could never fathom the boy’s obsession for
numbers. Although the boy had secured a first class in his matriculation
examination and had also been awarded the Subramanyan scholarship, he had
failed in his first year college examinations. This was because, being
obsessed with mathematics, he had neglected all other subjects. Desiring
to bring his “mad” son back on the course of “normalcy”, the
worried father got him married to a young girl of eight!
put Ramanujan in real dilemma. He needed to find money to support self,
wife and buy paper for his jottings. Oh yes, marriage did not distract him
from his magnificent obsession. Driven
to desperation, he began reusing papers, now writing on them in blue and
rewriting over it in red so as to be able distinguish between two trains
of thoughts. Ramanujan approached several offices and applied for a
clerical job, displaying his now famous frayed notebooks and papers and
claiming that he was good in mathematics. However, nobody could follow his
work and he was turned away. Luckily for him, he came across one Francis
Spring, who did seem to understand what was in the notebooks and who
appointed him at the Madras Port Trust where he (Spring) was the Director.
Soon after, some educationists took up the cause of Ramanujan and in May
1913, the University of Madras, India awarded him a fellowship although he had no
meantime, Ramanujan had approached the great mathematician G. H. Hardy and
presented to him a set of one hundred and twenty theorems and formulas. A
part of it was the Reimann series, a topic in definite integral in
calculus. Ignorant of Reimann’s original work, Ramanujan had reproduced
the work all over again.
another intriguing portion of the collection sent to Hardy was
Ramanujan’s interpretation about the equations called “modular”. It
was later proved that Ramanujan’s conjectures were indeed correct. The
collection also included a formula in hypergeometric series, which later
came to be named after him.
and his colleague, J. E. Littlewood, recognized the genius in Ramanujan
and made arrangements for him to travel to Cambridge University to study.
Hardy was amused to find that Ramanujan was an unsystematic mathematician,
who played with maths much as a child played with toys. His mathematical truths were not explained and it was left to other
mathematicians to prove them.
was elected Fellow of the Royal society in February 1918.
He was the second Indian to be honored with this fellowship and
the first Indian to be elected Fellow of the Trinity College, Cambridge.
His contributions to the field of mathematics included the Hardy-Ramanujan-Littlewood circle method in number theory, Roger-Ramanujan’s
identities in partition of integers, list of highest composite numbers and
some work on the algebra of inequalities and the number theory.
Ramanujan fell victim to tuberculosis and had to be sent home to India.
Fighting pain and death, Ramanujan kept himself pre-occupied by playing
with numbers. He succumbed to the illness at the tender age of thirty-two.
Within the short life span, Ramanujan had earned repute as an astrologer
and an orator too.