55 Srinivasa Ramanujan Facts: Self-Taught Mathematical Genius

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A mathematical wizard, a mathematician of highest caliber, a pure genius – Srinivasa Ramanujan is one of those few mathematicians in this world who stunned the entire world with his knowledge, his originality and his astounding mathematical works that mathematicians of his era couldn’t even think of.

In this article on Srinivasa Ramanujan facts, we are going to a take a look into his life, his early love with mathematics and his journey to England. We will also take a look at some of his contributions to the world of mathematics. So, let us start…

Srinivasa Ramanujan Facts: 1-5 | Early Life (Childhood)

1. Srinivasa Ramanujan was born in British India. To be more specific, he was born in Erode in Madras Presidency (today known as Tamil Nadu). He was born on December 22, 1887.

2. He was born in a poor Tamil Brahmin Iyengar family. His father worked in a Sari Shop as a clerk. His father’s name was K. Srinivasa Iyengar. His mother (Komalatammal) was on the other hand a housewife but also earned a few bucks by singing in a local temple.

3. Ramanujan was the eldest of the 5 children of K. Srinivasa Iyengar and Komalatammal. Unfortunately however, three siblings of Ramanujan died before they could even reach the age of 1 year. The youngest sibling of Ramanujan was born in 1905 and his name was Tirunarayanan. He survived till 1978.

4. Ramanujan himself contracted smallpox in 1889 but was a lucky child to have recovered. That same year some 4,000 other people in Thanjavur district (where Ramanujan was born) died because of smallpox.

5. After he recovered from smallpox, he and his mother went to his maternal grandparents’ house in Kanchipuram located close to Madras (currently known as Chennai). Unfortunately, his maternal grandfather lost his job soon after and he returned back to Kumbakonam (place where he was born).

Srinivasa Ramanujan Facts: 6-10 | Early Life (Childhood)

6. Back at Kumbakonam, Ramanujan was sent to Kangayan Primary School. Later, his parental grandfather died and this is when Ramanujan was sent back to Kanchipuram to stay with his maternal grandparent.

7. There he was again sent to a primary school but because he didn’t like the school there, he avoided attending the same. This forced his family to enlist a local constable to ensure that he attended the school.

8. Ramanujan’s persistence about not attending the school in Kanchipuram eventually forced his family to send him back to Kumbakonam within a span of just 6 months.

9. At Kumbakonam, he mostly stayed with his mother because his father spent most of his time working. His mother was highly religious and gave Ramanujan the same teachings. He followed a strictly vegetarian diet, learned about traditions and puranas. He attended pujas in temple and learned how to perform pujas.

10. In November 1897, right before he attained the age of 10 years, he managed to pass the primary examinations from Kangayan Primary School scoring best scores in whole of district in arithmetic, geography, Tamil and English.

Srinivasa Ramanujan Facts: 11-15 | Formal Introduction to Mathematics

11. In the same year he took admission in the Town Higher Secondary School. That is where he was formally ‘introduced’ to mathematics. By the time he attained the age of 11, he had completely exhausted mathematical knowledge of two college-going students who lived at his home as lodgers.

12. When he wanted more, he was handed over an Advanced Trigonometry book authored by S. L. Loney. Ramanujan studied the book in details and by the time he was 13, he had completely mastered the book and he had enough knowledge to discover sophisticated theorems all on his own.

13. When he was 14 years old, he had received many academic awards and merit certificates. In mathematics exams he he took only half of the alloted time to complete his exams and by that time only he was pretty much familiar with stuff like infinite series and geometry.

14. In year 1902, for the first time in his life, he was introduced to cubic equations. He learned how to solve them and then, he came up with his very own methods for solving quartic. He even attempted solving quintic, unaware of the fact that radicals cannot be used to solve them.

15. In 1903, a friend of his handed over a copy of ‘A Synopsis of Elementary Results in Pure and Applied Mathematics’ that was authored by G. S. Carr. The book was a collection of 5,000 theorems. Ramanujan studied the book in details. It is said that the extraordinary genius hidden in him was actually brought out by this book.

Srinivasa Ramanujan Facts: 16-20 | He Failed!

16. In 1904, Ramanujan not only developed but also investigated Bernoulli numbers independently. He even ended up calculating the Euler-Mascheroni Constant all the way up to 15 decimal points.

17. The very same year, that is in 1904, Ramanujan graduated from the Town Higher Secondary School. As usual, he excelled in mathematics and his school headmaster – Krishnaswami Iyer awarded him with K. Ranganatha Rao Prize for Mathematics. Iyer even said that Ramanujan is such an outstanding student that he deserves more marks that the maximum allotted.

18. Because of his extraordinary performances, Ramanujan was given a scholarship for studying in Government Arts College in Kumbakonam. Interestingly, Ramanujan was so deeply focused on mathematics that he failed in almost all other subjects. As a result of this failure, he lost his scholarship.

19. In 1905, he ran away from home and escaped towards Visakhapatnam. For about a month he stayed in a place called Rajahmundry. Later on, he took admission in Madras’ Pachaiyappa’s College. There, he again performed poorly in subjects like Sanskrit, physiology, English etc. but performed well in mathematics. However, in mathematics, he answered only those questions that he found appealing and he didn’t even touch the other questions.

20. In December 1906, Ramanujan simply failed in Fellow of Arts examination. He retried in 1907 but failed again. So, he left the college without having an FA degree. After leaving college, Ramanujan started his own independent research in mathematics but stayed in extreme poverty and often went hungry but still remained undeterred.

Srinivasa Ramanujan Facts: 21-25 | Discovering Ramanujan

21. It was not until 1910 that Ramanujan’s talents came to notice. In that year, Ramanujan was in Madras and he used to tutor some students for earning a livelihood. He also used to walk around the town offering accounting services to several business in order to deal with his poverty.

22. That same year, he went looking for a job in revenue department of the government. There he met an official called V. Ramaswamy Iyer. At that time, Ramanujan was already 23 years old. V. Ramaswamy Iyer was known as Professor Ramaswamy.

23. When Ramanujan met Ramaswamy Iyer, the only thing that Ramanujan had to show was his collection of notebooks where he wrote down all the mathematical works he did. Lucky for Ramanujan, Ramaswamy was a mathematician of great caliber and was the founder of Indian Mathematical Society.

24. Ramaswamy immediately recognized that Ramanujan was no ordinary man and that he was a mathematician of unmatched genius. After taking a look at Ramanujan’s work, Ramaswamy decided to contact R. Ramachandra Rao – the secretary of Indian Mathematical Society.

25. Ramaswamy asked Ramachandra Rao to provide some financial support to Ramanujan. However, Ramachandra, who was despite being impressed by the work, held the notion that whatever Ramanujan presented was not his own work but was the work stolen from previous reputed mathematicians.

Srinivasa Ramanujan Facts: 26-30 | Discovering Ramanujan

26. C. V. Rajagopalachari – a friend of Ramanujan tried to subdue Ramachandra’s doubt about the academic integrity of Ramanujan. On request of Rajagopalachari, Ramachandra decided to meet with Ramanujan. It is then that Ramanujan and Ramachandra had a detailed discussion on topics like hypergeometric series, elliptic integrals and divergent series. After the discussion, Ramanchandra understood that Ramanujan was an extraordinary mathematician.

27. This is when Ramachandra provided financial support to Ramanujan. This allowed Ramanujan to continue with his research while V. Ramaswamy Iyer started publishing the works of Ramanujan in the ‘Journal of the Indian Mathematical Society’.

28. When Ramanujan’s works were published, several flaws were noted initially by M. T. Narayana – editor of the Journal. The flaws were not in what he did with mathematics but with his writing. These flaws were a result of the style he adopted as a child. The works were genius but the presentation was not clear and anyone who was not a mathematical genius but an ordinary mathematical reader could barely understand exactly how Ramanujan achieved the results.

29. The financial position of Ramanujan improved in 1912. First he managed to a job in Accountant General’s office in Madras. It was a temporary job and fetched him a salary of Rs. 20 a month. Ramanujan stayed on the job for a few weeks and later managed to get a job in Madras Port Trust as Class III, Grade IV accounting clerk. This new job fetched him a salary of Rs. 30 a month. However, the new job came to him because of a recommendation from Presidency College’s mathematics professor E. W. Middlemast.

30. While working at the new office, Ramanujan was quick with his work. He used to complete his tasks quickly and use his spare time for mathematical research. Sir Francis Spring – boss of Ramanujan and S. Narayana Iyer (colleague of Ramanujan and also the treasurer of Indian Mathematical Society) were two people who used to always encourage Ramanujan to pursue his research.

Srinivasa Ramanujan Facts: 31-35 | Contact With British Mathematicians

31. Only in Spring of 1913, attempts were made by three people to present Ramanujan’s work to British mathematicians. Those three people were E. W. Middlemast, S. Narayana Iyer and R. Ramachandra Rao.

32. University College London’s M. J. M. Hill reverted back stating that Ramanujan did have some ability and taste for mathematics but there holes in his paper and that Ramanujan lacked both the foundation and educational background that were required by mathematicians to accept Ramanujan and his work.

33. Ramanujan didn’t give up and decided to write to Cambridge University’s mathematicians. E. W. Hobson and H. F. Baker were two professors who simply returned Ramanujan’s papers without even commenting.

Srinivasa Ramanujan Facts
By Unknown – A mathematician’s apology, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3778423

34. On January 16, 1913, Ramanujan wrote to Godfrey Harold Hardy popularly known as G. H. Hardy. Hardy was a pure mathematician in University of Cambridge and one of the most eminent scholars of his time.

35. Hardy received Ramanujan’s letter with a 9-page sample of Ramanujan’s work. Glancing at the work, Hardy had a hard time believing what he was looking at. The outlandish originality came from an unknown mathematician and this made Hardy think for once that either it was fraud or someone among his colleagues was playing a trick with him.

Srinivasa Ramanujan Facts: 36-40 | Ramanujan Goes to England

36. Upon receiving Ramanujan’s sample work, Hardy called for his friend J.E. Littlewood – another eminent mathematician from University of Cambridge. Hardy and Littlewood together looked into Ramanujan’s work for around 2 hours and 30 minutes and eventually came to a conclusion that they were looking at the papers produced by unknown mathematician of highest caliber.

37. Hardy wrote back to Ramanujan on February 8, 1913 stating that he was really interested in Ramanujan’s work and would like to see some proofs for the assertions made by Ramanujan. Even before the letter could reach Ramanujan, Hardy already contacted Indian Office planning for a trip to Britain for Ramanujan.

38. Upon knowing about the arrangement made by Hardy, Ramanujan declined because his Brahmin upbringing forbade him from visiting any foreign land. After this, Ramanujan’s work was further endorsed by former mathematics lecturers of Trinity College, Cambridge – Gilbert Walker.

39. Walker’s endorsement led to an arrangement for scholarship for Ramanujan in University of Madras. Ramanujan received Rs. 75 per month scholarship so that he could continue with research. In the meantime, Hardy asked his friend E. H. Neville who was posted in Madras as a lecturer to mentor Ramanujan into visiting Cambridge.

40. In 1914 on March 17, Ramanujan set sail for London on S.S. Nevasa apparently after his mother had a dream in which the family deity ‘Namagiri’ asked her to step aside let her son fulfill the purpose of his life. Ramanujan reached London on April 14, 1914.

Srinivasa Ramanujan Facts: 41-45 | Life in Cambridge

41. After Ramanujan reached London, Hardy’s friend Neville received him. 4 days later Neville took Ramanujan to his own house located at Chesterton Road in Cambridge. From there, Ramanujan started working with Hardy and Littlewood. It is interesting to note that only three months after Ramanujan reached England, World War I broke out.

42. Ramanujan stayed at Neville’s house for 6 months after which he moved to Whewell’s Court that was only 5 minutes walking distance from Hardy’s room. While Hardy and Littlewood worked with Ramanujan, they were completely amazed by his work. They did rigorous study of the notebooks that Ramanujan brought with him.

43. Those notebooks that had thousands of theorems, identities and equations were all worked between the period 1903 and 1914. Some of those works of Ramanujan had already been discovered, some of them were wrong simply because of Ramanujan’s inexperience but the rest were completely new and original.

44. Hardy and Ramanujan had some conflicts because they belonged to different cultures and they had different upbringing. Hardy asked for proofs while Ramanujan worked purely on intuition and credited his knowledge to his family deity Namagiri.

45. Hardy tried really hard to make Ramanujan follow the rules and provide rigorous proofs of his work and even tried to fill in the gaps in Ramanujan’s education. However, it was not easy for either of the two.

Srinivasa Ramanujan Facts: 46-50 | PhD, FRS, Ill-Health

46. Ramanujan spent almost 5 years in Cambridge and during this whole time, he worked with Hardy and Littlewood. Only two years after Ramanujan went to Cambridge, he was awarded the ‘Bachelor of Science degree by research’. This degree was later named as PhD. He received the degree in March 1916.

47. He was awarded the PhD because of the work he did on Highly Composite Numbers. Next year (1917) on December 6, he was elected as a member of London Mathematical Society.

48. He was elected as Fellow of the Royal Society in year 1918 because of his works on Theory of Numbers and Elliptic functions. He was second Indian to be elected as FRS. He was only 31 years old when he became the Fellow of the Royal Society. The first Indian was Ardaseer Cursetjee (FRS 1841).

49. The same year (1918) on October 13, he was elected as a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. He became the first Indian to be elected as Fellow of Trinity College.

50. By 1919, his health worsened when he was in England. This happened because he had a strict vegetarian diet and on top of that there was war-time rationing that lasted from 1914 to 1918. These factors together led to serious health problems and he was diagnosed with Tuberculosis as well as severe vitamin deficiency.

Srinivasa Ramanujan Facts: 51-55 | Return to India and Death

51. In 1919, Ramanujan returned back to India. In 1920 he died when he was only 32 years old. He died on April 26.

52. In 1994, his medical records were rechecked by Dr. D. A. B. Young. Young concluded from the records and all the history of relapses, hepatic conditions and fevers that Ramanujan didn’t die of tuberculosis. He died because of Hepatic Amoebiasis.

53. Hepatic Amoebiasis was actually a widespread disease in Madras and was usually caused by improperly treated dysentery lying dormant for years.

54. Turns out that before returning to India, Ramanujan had two dysentery episodes. During the time when Ramanujan died, Hepatic Amoebiasis was actually a treatable disease and often curable. Unfortunately, it was not easy to diagnose at that time.

55. Before he died, Ramanujan continued working. After his death, his youngest brother Tirunarayanan compiled and chronicled all his work.

We are not quite done. We will soon compile a list of random facts about Ramanujan and publish as a separate article.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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