Greatest Mathematicians and Their Work

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  • Topic: Number theory, Mathematics, Srinivasa Ramanujan
  • Pages : 30 (11579 words )
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  • Published : October 19, 2010
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Before we look at the life and work of Chidambaram Padmanabhan Ramanujam we must warn the reader that this article is on Ramanujam, NOT Ramanujan the number theorist who worked with G H Hardy (there is only a difference of one letter in their names!). Ramanujam's father was C S Padmanabhan who was an advocate working in Madras, India, at the High Court. C P Ramanujam was educated in Madras, first at Ewart's School, where he had his primary and the first part of his secondary education, and then at the Sir M Ct Muthiah Chetty High School at Vepery, Madras. His interests on the academic side were in mathematics and chemistry while on the sporting side he was an enthusiastic tennis player. Chemistry experiments were particularly fascinating to him and he made a chemistry laboratory in a room in his home. There he would spend happy times carrying out experiments with one of his friends. In 1952, while still only 14 years old, he passed his final High School examinations and entered Loyola College in Madras. Ramanujam's achievements at High School had been outstanding and he had shown that he was extraordinarily gifted, so he entered Loyola College with great expectations. He continued his interest in chemistry but it was mathematics that he specialised in, taking Mathematics Honours after obtaining his Intermediate qualification. He was awarded a B.A. with Honours in Mathematics in 1957 but, strangely for such an outstanding student, he only obtained a second class degree. This may have been a result of starting his university education at so young an age before he was really ready, for the second class degree no way reflected his remarkable mathematical abilities. On the other hand it may have resulted from a lack of belief in himself which haunted Ramanujam throughout his life. He had been taught mathematics by Father C Racine in his final honours years at Loyola College and he encouraged Ramanujam to apply for entry to the School of Mathematics at the Tata Institute in Bombay. In his letter of recommendation Father Racine wrote:- He has certainly originality of mind and the type of curiosity which is likely to suggest that he will develop into a good research worker if given sufficient opportunity. In Madras there was another prestigious Institute, the Ramanujan Institute of Mathematics. In 1957 Ramanujam learnt deep results in analytic number theory from the former director of this Institute (who had retired three years earlier) in the months before he left Madras for Bombay to begin his studies at the Tata Institute. At the Institute, Ramanujam quickly became an expert in many different mathematical areas. His wide expertise made him a natural person to write up lecture notes from courses given by visitors to the Institute and in 1958-59 Max Deuring gave a course on the theory of algebraic functions of one variable which was expertly written up by Ramanujam. He seemed able to soak up huge amounts of deep and difficult mathematics and he gave many talks showing what a deep understand he had of many topics. What he was not doing was producing original mathematical advances while some of his less able colleagues were being much more successful. Ramanujam felt that he did not have what it takes to solve the big problems of mathematics, and he had no wish to solve small routine problems. Again, as in his undergraduate course, it would appear to be a psychological problem rather than a mathematical one but for Ramanujam it was a very real problem and he became more and more frustrated. He decided that his strengths were in teaching mathematics rather than producing original mathematics, and consequently he began applying to a variety of universities and colleges for a teaching position. His applications failed so reluctantly Ramanujam remained at the Tata Institute. At this stage K G Ramanathan, the author of [4], began working with Ramanujam. He...
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