The Lost Notebook Of Ramanujan

Grace Higgins | December 22nd, 2020

Ramanujan is regarded as one of the greatest mathematicians to ever live. He grew up in a poor Brahmin family in India, with very limited access to any form of education. At the age of 15, he was lucky to receive a copy of Carr’s Synopsis of Pure Mathematics. Apparently, this book set him on a mission of proving all the results laid out by Carr.

With an immense passion for Maths Ramanujan ignored all other subjects, which meant he actually failed the exam to enter the University of Madras. But by continuing his research into maths he had become the figurehead of mathematicians all around the region. In 1913, he sent a letter to G H Hardy who was a leading mathematician in Britain. Hardy advised that while some of the results were already known, many of Ramanujan’s ideas were completely fresh and original. In fact, he stated that Ramanujan was a mathematician of the highest class. Hardy later went on to rank all mathematicians throughout time, and he regarded Ramanujan as the highest-ranked.

Together they published many collaborations and papers, to the point that by 1918 Ramanujan was a Fellow of the Royal Society. And in the same year, he was elected as a Fellow of Trinity College Cambridge. Unfortunately, Ramanujan had always been plagued by bad health. On his return to India, he only lived for one more year and died in 1920.

Yet even before dying, he wrote a whole new subject for mathematics called mock theta functions. Some Hardy was able to publish through some letters he received from Ramanujan before his death. However, most of them were a complete mystery. Even more amazing, was much later in 1976 the American mathematician George Andrews was going through a box of papers in Cambridge. He found what is now referred to as The Lost Notebook.

This notebook contained all the results for these mysterious mock theta functions! Andrew’s discovery changed the landscape for modern maths. Many see the lost notebook as Ramanujan’s greatest work. Even hundreds of years later, the topics and functions in his notebooks are still greatly discussed in conferences around the world.

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