The Man Who Knew Infinity : S. Ramanujam

As an Indian it feels great to know that to mark Srinivasa Ramanujan, Indian mathematician’s 125th birth anniversary celebration, a three-day international conference, ‘Ramanujan 125,’ began at University of Florida in US.  Even many students and common people don’t know much about this great personality in India. This conference  has brought together about 70 researchers from all over the world and they are scheduled to deliver talks on current research influenced by Ramanujan’s work.

Srinivasa (22 December 1887 – 26 April 1920) with  almost no formal training was a pioneer in mathematics, and made extraordinary contributions to mathematical analysis, number theory, infinite series, and continued fractions. Living in India with no access to the larger mathematical community, which was centered in Europe at the time, As a result, he sometimes rediscovered known theorems in addition to producing new work. Ramanujan was said to be a natural genius by the English mathematician G.H. Hardy, in the same league as mathematicians like Euler and Gauss.


By age 11, he had exhausted the mathematical knowledge of two college students who were lodgers at his home. Ramanujan was shown how to solve cubic equations in 1902 and he went on to find his own method to solve the quartic. However, Ramanujan was so intent on studying mathematics that he could not focus on any other subjects and failed most of them, losing his scholarship in the process. He later enrolled at Pachaiyappa’s College in Madras. He again excelled in mathematics but performed poorly in other subjects such as physiology. Ramanujan failed his Fine Arts degree exam in December 1906 and again a year later. Without a degree, he left college and continued to pursue independent research in mathematics. At this point in his life, he lived in extreme poverty and was often on the brink of starvation. But he worked hard and get successful and achieved a lot of big thing in his short lifespan.

Ramanujan spent many  years in Cambridge and Trinity college working with a lot of  world renowned mathematicians. Ramanujan was awarded a B.A. degree by research (this degree was later renamed PhD) in March 1916 for his work on highly composite numbers, the first part of which was published as a paper in the Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society. The paper was over 50 pages with different properties of such numbers proven. Ramanujan returned to Kumbakonam, Madras Presidency in 1919 and died soon thereafter at the age of 32.

A Book is there on Ramanujam’s life, ‘The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan’ by Robert Kanigel. On the 125th anniversary of his birth, India declared the birthday of Ramanujan, December 22, as ‘National Mathematics Day.’ The declaration was made by Dr. Manmohan Singh in Chennai  on December 26, 2011. Dr Manmohan Singh also declared that the year 2012 would be celebrated as the National Mathematics Year.

Over the last two decades, the University of Florida has become a premier centre for research on Ramanujan’s work. The Plenary Talks include presentations by Ken Ono of Emory University, on Ramanujan’s mock theta functions; Robert Vaughan of Pennsylvania State University on the Hardy-Ramanujan-Littlewood circle method; Dorian Goldfeld of Columbia University on Ramanujan sums; and Kannan Soundararajan of Stanford University on zeta and L-functions.

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