The Life and Times and Trials and Tribulations of Srinivasa Ramanujan

Number Theory

In the early 20th century, often times people of colour were not held in high regard in academic fields. Such a concept was true for Srinivasa Ramanujan, a young mathematician from Erode, India.

Although he was a prodigy in Mathematics, Ramanujan’s varying interpretations of number theory were mostly wrong. This is not meant to dissuade the fact that he had a strong intellectual prowess. He also had little access to advanced mathematics during his time in India. At the age of 15, he obtained a copy of George Shoobridge Carr’s Synopsis of Elementary Results in Pure and Applied Mathematics, vol. 2 (1880–86), allegedly the very book which sparked his hunger for knowledge.


In 1913, he began a correspondence with the British mathematician G. H. Hardy that led to a grant from Trinity College, Cambridge. Although he remained unaware of developments in Mathematics, his knowledge of subjects such as continued fractions and partition functions remained unparalleled throughout his career. In 1914, a few months prior to the outbreak of World War I, Ramanujan travelled to England, where he and Hardy collaborated together on research.

During his time at Cambridge, Ramanujan worked on subjects such as the Riemann series, the functional equations of the zeta function, and his own theory of divergent series. He also made further advances in the partition of numbers: the number of ways that a positive integer can be expressed as the sum of positive integers. In 1917, Ramanujan contracted tuberculosis, though his condition recovered enough for him to return home in 1919. The following year, he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society– alongside great academics such as Stephen Hawking and Issac Newton.

Ramanujan passed away in 1920 when his tuberculosis came back.


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