22 December is observed as National Mathematics Day to celebrate the achievements of Srinivasa Ramanujan, a legendary mathematician born on this day in 1887. In 2012, then prime minister Manmohan Singh declared 22 December as National Mathematics Day.
Ramanujan was born in Tamil Nadu’s Erode to an orthodox Tamil Iyengar family. From his school days, he was a brilliant student and after securing good marks in all the subjects, he entered secondary school, where his love and interest in mathematics began.
Students of his age used to juggle with algebra, trigonometry and arithmetic problems but Ramanujan found theorems to solve tricky trigonometric problems. When he was 17, he got a scholarship to study at Government Arts College in Kumbakonam. However, his obsession with mathematics was so strong that he failed in most of the other subjects, thereby losing his scholarship.
With no degree and barely having any money, Ramanujan started tutoring students for mathematics for a living. He gradually got a temporary job in the Madras Accountant General’s office. Side by side, he started to build up his network with some of the top mathematicians in South India that helped him sustain his daily life in Chennai. He also started contributing to the Journal of the Indian Mathematical Society.
In 1913, his career saw a major twist when his 10-page letter with statements of theorems on infinite series, improper integrals, continued fractions, and number theory reached professor GH Hardy. Impressed by his ability, Hardy invited Ramanujan to the University of Cambridge.
Ramanujan was 26-year-old when he arrived at Cambridge and built a great partnership with Hardy. During his stay in England, Ramanujan was awarded a BSc (later renamed PhD) and made the youngest Fellow of Royal Society.
In his lifetime, Ramanujan compiled more than 3,000 results on equations and identities, many of which were posthumously proven right. Ramanujan returned to India in 1919 after World War I but due to his poor health, he died of tuberculosis on 26 April 1920.
Ramanujan was also known as the “man who knew infinity”. He made in-depth analysis to solve mathematical problems and equations using new ideas and concepts.
Among his other achievements, Ramanujan was also among the youngest members of Britain’s Royal Society. He became the first Indian to be elected a Fellow of Trinity College.
The theories by Ramanujan transformed 20th-century mathematics and continue to shape the subject in the present century.