SRINIVASA RAMANUJAN – The Greatest Mathematical Genius of the Twentieth Century

by Siddharth

I recently discovered that 2012 has been declared as the National Mathematics year by the government, respecting the contributions made by the mathematics wizard S Ramanujan. A rare feat by Indian government but too late none the less but Ramanujan still is no more than a lost hero of Indian history at least for many Indians who are busy rewarding their bollywood stars and phony leaders with the slogan India shining with most of its luster muffled up in the shadow of its grand history.

This is one of the reasons for me to write this post but not the only one. I have been intrigued by his personality from a long time and also had an idea about a film based on his life but I just found that recently Pressman Film Corp acquired rights of biography The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of a Genius Ramanujan by Robert Kanigel to be directed by Matthew Brown. (Looks like I will have to delete the idea from my biopic films folder). Anyways, I will share more about my film ideas later in another post but I’m glad that a film is being made on the life of this genius who grew up in poverty and isolation in madras with a career like a supernova briefly lighting up the heavens with his mathematical brilliance.

Srinivasa Ramanujan one of India’s great mathematical genius made contributions to the analytical theory of number and worked on elliptic functions, continued fractions and infinite series was born on 22nd December 1887 in Erode Tamil Nadu and died at a young age of 33 of tuberculosis on 26th April 1920 in Kumbakonam. The story of Ramanujan is a story of human triumph and an example of what genius can accomplish against the odds says Robert Kanigel, Ramanujan’s biographer.

In one of my favorite movie “Goodwill Hunting” the professors at MIT are shocked to find that the street tough played by Matt Damon is actually a mathematical genius who can simply write down the answers to seemingly intractable mathematical problems and realizing this street kid has learned advanced mathematics on his own, one of them blurts out that he is the next Ramanujan. In fact goodwill hunting is loosely based on the life of Srinivasa Ramanujan.

Despite his miserable financial situation and ill health, he managed to secure a scholarship in madras university and later in Cambridge university where after his graduation was elected a fellow of the Cambridge philosophical society. He has been proposed by impressive list of mathematicians namely Hardy, Macmohan, Grace, Larmor, Bromwich, Hobson, Baker, Littlewood, Nocholson, Young, Whitaker, Forsyth, and Whitehead

Mathematicians are still trying to decipher the lost notebooks of Ramanujan found after his death. Looking back at Ramanujan’s work, we see that it can be generalized to eight dimensions, which is directly applicable to String Theory. Physicists add two more dimensions in order to construct a physical theory. When we add two more dimensions to Ramanujan’s functions, the magic numbers of mathematics become 10 and 26 precisely the magic numbers of String Theory. So, in some sense, Ramanujan was doing String Theory before World War I.

I’m quite excited about this upcoming film based on his life from Madras to Cambridge. If not through the book but at-least with film’s popularity many Indians and people around the world will get acquainted with the rags to the intellectual riches story of genius incarnate.

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