Ramanujan, Srinivasa (1887-1920) -- from Eric Weisstein's World of Scientific Biography
Branch of Science Mathematicians
Nationality Indian
Ramanujan, Srinivasa (1887-1920)
Indian mathematician who was self-taught and had an uncanny
mathematical manipulative ability. Ramanujan was unable to pass his
school examinations in India, and could only obtain a clerk's
position in the city of Madras. However, he continued to pursue his
own mathematics, and sent letters to three mathematicians in England
(which arrived in January of 1913) containing some of his results.
While two of the three returned the letters unopened, G. H. Hardy
recognized Ramanujan's intrinsic mathematical ability and arranged
for him to come to Cambridge. Because of his lack of formal
training, Ramanujan sometimes did not differentiate between formal
proof and apparent truth based on intuitive or numerical evidence.
Although his intuition and computational ability allowed him to
determine and state highly original and unconventional results which
continued to defy formal proof until recently (Berndt 1985-1997),
Ramanujan did occasionally state incorrect results.
Ramanujan had an intimate familiarity with numbers, and excelled
especially in number theory and modular function theory. His
familiarity with numbers were demonstrated by the following
incident. During an illness in England, Hardy visited Ramanujan in
the hospital. When Hardy remarked that he had taken taxi number
1729, a singularly unexceptional number, Ramanujan immediately
responded that this number was actually quite remarkable: it is the
smallest integer that can be represented in two ways by the sum of
two cubes: 1729=13+123=93+103.
Unfortunately, Ramanujan's health deteriorated rapidly in England,
due perhaps to the unfamiliar climate, food, and to the isolation
which Ramanujan felt as the sole Indian in a culture which was
largely foreign to him. Ramanujan was sent home to recuperate in
1919, but tragically died the next year at the very young age of 32.
Ramanujan published some of his results in journals, and many are
beautiful indeed. However, his working notebooks contained much
additional unorganized material which remained uninvestigated until
the sustained efforts of Berndt and his coworkers who systematically
examined and proved Ramanujan's sometimes vague or ambiguous
statements. For anyone with a little knowledge of number theory,
Ramanujan's notebooks make absolutely fascinating reading. It is
therefore a great pity that their publisher, Springer-Verlag, has
chosen to price these slim volumes at the ridiculous price of about
$100 apiece.
Additional biographies: MacTutor (St. Andrews)
Hardy, Littlewood
References
Andrews, G. E. (Ed.). Ramanujan Revisited: Proceedings of the
Centenary Conference, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,
June 1-5, 1987. Boston, MA: Academic Press, 1988.
Berndt, B. C. and Rankin, R. A. Ramanujan: Letters and Commentary.
Providence, RI: Amer. Math. Soc., 1995.
Berndt, B. C. Ramanujan's Notebooks, Part I. New York:
Springer-Verlag, 1985.
Berndt, B. C. Ramanujan's Notebooks, Part II. New York:
Springer-Verlag, 1988.
Berndt, B. C. Ramanujan's Notebooks, Part III. New York:
Springer-Verlag, 1997.
Berndt, B. C. Ramanujan's Notebooks, Part IV. New York:
Springer-Verlag, 1985.
Berndt, B. C. Ramanujan's Notebooks, Part V. New York:
Springer-Verlag, 1997.
Hardy, G. H. A Mathematician's Apology, reprinted with a foreword by
C. P. Snow. New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 96, 1993.
Hardy, G. H. "The Indian Mathematician Ramanujan." Ch. 1 in
Ramanujan: Twelve Lectures on Subjects Suggested by his Life and
Work. New York: Chelsea, pp. 1-21, 1999.
Hoffman, P. The Man Who Loved Only Numbers. New York: Hyperion, pp.
82-92, 1998.
Kanigel, R. The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius
Ramanujan. New York: Washington Square Press, pp. 30-40 and 148,
1991.
Ramanujan, S. and Raghavan, S. The Lost Notebook and Other
Unpublished Papers. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1988.
Ramanujan, S. Notebooks, 2 vols. Bombay: Tata Institute of
Fundamental Research, 1957.
Ramanujan, S. Collected Papers of Srinivasa Ramanujan (Ed. G. H.
Hardy, S. Aiyar, P. Venkatesvara, and B. M. Wilson). Providence, RI:
Amer. Math. Soc., 2000.
Rankin, R. A. "Ramanujan's Manuscripts and Notebooks." Bull. London
Math. Soc. 14, 81-97, 1982.
Srinivasan, G. "Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920)."
http://www.interlog.com/~gems/.
Author: Eric W. Weisstein