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Home > History > Srinivasa Ramanujan- Math Pioneers Series

Srinivasa Ramanujan- Math Pioneers Series

This page tells all about the life and discoveries of Srinivasa Ramanujan. It is part of our math pioneers series.

Srinivasa Ramanujan

Srinivasa Ramanujan

Transfixed by Math at Age 15!

Srinivasa Ramanujan was an acclaimed Indian mathematician who was born in southern India in 1887.  Growing up, he attended a local grammar school and high school, fostering an interest in mathematics from a very early age.  At age 15, Ramanujan read an old math book titled A Synopsis of Elementary Results in Pure and Applied Mathematics cover to cover, and was transfixed.  He perused all of the theorems outlined in the book and began writing some of his own. 

One-Track Mind

Ramanujan received scholarships to both the Government College in India and the University of Madras, but upon attending, lost both due to his tendency to focus on his math classes and neglect all others.  Regardless, he continued his pursuit of math and published a 17-page paper on Bernoulli numbers in the Journal of the Indian Mathematical Society in 1911. 

Studying at Cambridge

In 1913, Ramanujan began writing to G. H. Hardy, a British mathematician.  Hardy was impressed with Ramanujan’s ideas and got him both a research scholarship at the University of Madras and a grant from Cambridge University.  In 1914, Hardy asked Ramanujan to come study under him at Cambridge.  This request spurred a five-year mentorship between Hardy and Ramanujan; during that time, Ramanujan published over 20 papers individually and countless more in collaboration with Hardy.  He received a bachelor of sciences for research in 1916 and became part of the Royal Society of London in 1918. 

Advanced Mathematic Discoveries

One of Ramanujan’s goals was to find an exact formula for integer partitions of n— in other words, a formula to determine the exact number of ways we can add up to a number using positive integers.  For example, we can add up to 3 using 1+1+1 and 1+2, so the number 3 has two partitions.  Ramanujan and Hardy found and published this exact formula in 1918; Ramanujan also helped to develop the theory of modular forms, and studied mock theta functions in the later years of his life.

Death at Age 32

Ramanujan died in 1920 at the age of 32 from tuberculosis.  He published 37 papers and chronicled his theorems in multiple notebooks.  What makes his discoveries so significant is that there are no proofs for any of his discoveries: he was able to make conjectures about numbers and number theory through his own brain power without using math and logic to prove them.  Today, many of the claims from his notebooks have been proven.  But of all the mathematical mysteries associated with Ramanujan, perhaps the most elusive is the workings of his mind that allowed him to devise such complex theorems.

Mathematicians

   
Archimedes Nicolaus Copernicus
Erathosthenes Leonardo da Vinci
Pythagoras Sir Isaac Newton
Galileo Albert Einstein
Ada Lovelace Srinivasa Ramanujan

 

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