Monday, December 22, 2008

When Genius Blooms

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Srinivasa Ramanujan
22 December 1887-26 April 1920

Just say that I'm a sucker for genius, or merely caught up in the romance of brilliance. Having heard of him once, how can one ever forget this man? I first heard of the Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan in 1988 when I watched a NOVA broadcast about his life and work ("The Man Who Loved Numbers," original broadcast date: 3/22/88.) This man's passion and genius for numbers is intriguing, causing one to wonder how such genius came to be. It indeed seemed to bloom from nothingness. He is described as a poor clerk from India who, with little formal training in pure mathematics, astounded the world's top mathematicians with his brilliance.

As impressive as Ramanujan's passion for numbers, was the fact that academicians at the University of Cambridge overlooked his lack of formal mathematical training or credentials and instead, looked at his work and recognized his genius. G.H. Hardy, the famous mathematician, who was at Cambridge, stated that his own greatest contribution to mathematics was his discovery of Ramanujan.

Though he died young, Ramanujan left a legacy in the form of his mathematical notes that are still being
mined today.

Recommended reading:
  • "The Man Who Knew Infinity," by Robert Kanigel. This is an excellent, well written biography of Ramanujan's life and work.
  • "A Mathematician's Apology," by G.H. Hardy, is an engaging account of mathematics in which he also writes of his collaboration with Ramanujan.

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