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Srinivasa Ramanujan

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Srinivasa Ramanujan was born on 22 December 1887 in Erode, Madras Presidency, to K. Srinivasa Iyengar and his wife Komalatammal. His family was a humble one and his father worked as a clerk in a sari shop. His mother gave birth to several children after Ramanujan, but none of them survived infancy. Ramanujan contracted smallpox in 1889 but recovered from the potentially fatal disease. While a young child, he spent considerable time in his maternal grandparents’ home. He started his schooling in 1892. Initially he did not like school though he soon started excelling in his studies, especially mathematics. After passing out of Kangayan Primary School, he enrolled at Town Higher Secondary School in 1897. He soon discovered a book on advanced trigonometry written by S. L. Loney which he mastered by the time he was 13. He proved to be brilliant student and won several merit certificates and academic awards. In 1903, he got his hands on a book called ‘A Synopsis of Elementary Results in Pure and Applied Mathematics’ by G.S. Carr which was a collection of 5000 theorems. He was thoroughly fascinated by the book and spent months studying it in detail. This book is credited to have awakened the mathematical genius in him. By the time he was 17, he had independently developed and investigated the Bernoulli numbers and had calculated the Euler–Mascheroni constant up to 15 decimal places. He was now no longer interested in any other subject, and totally immersed himself in the study of mathematics only. He graduated from Town Higher Secondary School in 1904 and was awarded the K. Ranganatha Rao prize for mathematics by the school's headmaster, Krishnaswami Iyer. He went to the Government Arts College, Kumbakonam, on scholarship. However, he was so preoccupied with mathematics that he could not focus on any other subject, and failed in most of them. Due to this, his scholarship was revoked. He later enrolled at Pachaiyappa's College in Madras where again he excelled in mathematics, but performed poorly in other subjects. He failed to clear his Fellow of Arts exam in December 1906 and again a year later. Then he left college without a degree and continued to pursue independent research in mathematics.

 

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Later Years

After dropping out of college, he struggled to make a living and lived in poverty for a while. He also suffered from poor health and had to undergo a surgery in 1910. After recuperating, he continued his search for a job. He tutored some college students while desperately searching for a clerical position in Madras. Finally he had a meeting with deputy collector V. Ramaswamy Aiyer, who had recently founded the Indian Mathematical Society. Impressed by the young man’s works, Aiyer sent him with letters of introduction to R. Ramachandra Rao, the district collector for Nellore and the secretary of the Indian Mathematical Society. Rao, though initially skeptical of the young man’s abilities soon changed his mind after Ramanujan discussed elliptic integrals, hypergeometric series, and his theory of divergent series with him. Rao agreed to help him get a job and also promised to financially fund his research. Ramanujan got a clerical post with the Madras Port Trust, and continued his research with the financial help from Rao. His first paper, a 17-page work on Bernoulli numbers, was published with the help of Ramaswamy Aiyer, in the ‘Journal of the Indian Mathematical Society’ in 1911. The publication of his paper helped him gain attention for his works, and soon he was popular among the mathematical fraternity in India. Wishing to further explore research in mathematics, Ramanujan began a correspondence with the acclaimed English mathematician, Godfrey H. Hardy, in 1913. Hardy was very impressed with Ramanujan’s works and helped him get a special scholarship from the University of Madras and a grant from Trinity College, Cambridge. Thus Ramanujan travelled to England in 1914 and worked alongside Hardy who mentored and collaborated with the young Indian. In spite of having almost no formal training in mathematics, Ramanujan’s knowledge of mathematics was astonishing. Even though he had no knowledge of the modern developments in the subject, he effortlessly worked out the Riemann series, the elliptic integrals, hypergeometric series, and the functional equations of the zeta function.

However, his lack of formal training also meant that he had no knowledge of doubly periodic functions, the classical theory of quadratic forms, or Cauchy’s theorem. Also, several of his theorems on the theory of prime numbers were wrong.

In England, he finally got the opportunity to interact with other gifted mathematicians like his mentor, Hardy, and made several further advances, especially in the partition of numbers. His papers were published in European journals, and he was awarded a Bachelor of Science degree by research in March 1916 for his work on highly composite numbers. His brilliant career was however cut short by his untimely death.

 

Personal Life

He was married to a ten-year-old girl named Janakiammal in July 1909 when he was in his early 20s. The marriage was arranged by his mother. The couple did not have any children, and it is possible that the marriage was never consummated.

 Ramanujan suffered from various health problems throughout his life. His health declined considerably while he was living in England as the climatic conditions did not suit him. Also, he was a vegetarian who found it extremely difficult to obtain nutritious vegetarian food in England.

 

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Death

He was diagnosed with tuberculosis and a severe vitamin deficiency during the late 1910s and returned home to Madras in 1919. He never fully recovered and breathed his last on 26 April 1920, aged just 32.

His birthday, 22 December, is celebrated as 'State IT Day' in his home state of Tamil Nadu. On the 125th anniversary of his birth, India declared his birthday as 'National Mathematics Day.'

 

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