Celebrating the mathematical genius Ramanujan

November 13, 2012

On December 22, 1887, Srinivasa Ramanujan was born to a poor family in the state of Tamil Nadu in South India. From humble and obscure beginnings, he blossomed into one of the greatest mathematical geniuses of all time. Largely self-taught and cut off from much of the current mathematical work of his time, he nevertheless produced observations and results that continue to dazzle.

This year, the world is celebrating the 125th anniversary of the birth of Ramanujan. To mark this occasion, the NOTICES OF THE AMS is publishing "Srinivasa Ramanujan: Going Strong at 125", a collection of articles by top experts that discuss Ramanujan's legacy and its impact on current mathematics. The articles will appear in two installments, the first in the December 2012 issue of the Notices (to be posted online on November 13, 2012), and the second in the January 2013 issue (to be posted online on December 6, 2012). The Notices is freely available without subscription at http://www.ams.org/notices.

Ramanujan had an intimate familiarity with numbers that seems to have stemmed from his awe-inspiring ability to calculate with them. This ability gave him a profound understanding of numbers and their relationships. The famous story about the "taxicab number" exemplifies this familiarity. At the invitation of the G.H. Hardy, Ramanujan visited Cambridge, England, in 1914 and lived there for several years. Once when Hardy traveled by taxicab to pay a visit to Ramanujan, he remarked that the cab had had a very dull number, 1729. "No", Hardy recalled Ramanujan as replying, "it is a very interesting number; it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways."

Ramanujan's contributions to mathematics were cut short by his untimely death in 1920, when he was just 32. He left behind several notebooks in which he recorded his findings, and these have been a wellspring of mathematical activity. Several world-class mathematicians have devoted much of their careers to understanding the material in the notebooks. As a result, Ramanujan's impact in mathematics has continued to grow over the years.

Today an annual conference on Ramanujan's work is held in his hometown, and three prizes and a research journal are named after him. His personality and achievements have captured the imagination of the general public. The definitive biography of Ramanujan, "The Man Who Knew Infinity", by Robert Kanigel, appeared in 1991, and a novelized treatment of his relationship with Hardy, "The Indian Clerk" by David Leavitt, was published in 2007. Movies and plays have also appeared, including a documentary called "Letters from an Indian Clerk", produced for the Equinox science series in 1987; the documentary was recently posted on Youtube:

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

Explore further: Report on citation statistics: Numbers with a number of problems

More information: The collection of articles, "Srinivasa Ramanujan: Going Strong at 125", is edited by Krishnaswami Alladi (University of Florida) and contains contributions by Alladi, George Andrews (Penn State), Bruce Berndt (University of Illinois), Jonathan Borwein (University of Newcastle, Australia), Ken Ono (Emory University), K. Soundararajan (Stanford), R. C. Vaughan (Penn State), and S. Ole Warnaar (University of Queensland).

Related Stories

Creativity in mathematics

December 8, 2009

"Mathematics links Art and Science in one great enterprise, the human attempt to make sense of the universe." So writes Abel Prizewinner and Fields Medalist Sir Michael F. Atiyah in the January 2010 Notices of the American ...

New math theories reveal the nature of numbers

January 20, 2011

For centuries, some of the greatest names in math have tried to make sense of partition numbers, the basis for adding and counting. Many mathematicians added major pieces to the puzzle, but all of them fell short of a full ...

The shadows of the cosmos

January 26, 2011

Black holes are probably not afraid of their shadows. They'd swallow them if they could.

Experimental mathematics: Computing power leads to insights

October 13, 2011

In his 1989 book "The Emperor's New Mind", Roger Penrose commented on the limitations on human knowledge with a striking example: He conjectured that we would most likely never know whether a string of 10 consecutive 7s appears ...

Recommended for you

Just how good (or bad) is the fossil record of dinosaurs?

August 28, 2015

Everyone is excited by discoveries of new dinosaurs – or indeed any new fossil species. But a key question for palaeontologists is 'just how good is the fossil record?' Do we know fifty per cent of the species of dinosaurs ...

Fractals patterns in a drummer's music

August 28, 2015

Fractal patterns are profoundly human – at least in music. This is one of the findings of a team headed by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Göttingen and Harvard University ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
1 / 5 (2) Nov 13, 2012
I don't think idealization is serving the memory of a person. Ramanujan was a gifted "computer", and his defenders like Hardy claims he was a genius.

He made promising if haphazard starts on many areas, and who knows what he would have accomplished if not very much an autodidact and an early dead. As it is, in no way was he "one of the greatest mathematical geniuses of all time". Euclid, Gauss, Laplace, even young Galois, et cetera overshadows him easily.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.