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Born – 4 November 1939

Achievements – Shakuntala Devi is an outstanding calculating prodigy of India. On June 18 in 1980, she again solved the multiplication of two 13-digit numbers 7,686,369,774,870 x 2,465,099,745,779 randomly picked up by the computer department of Imperial College in London. And this, she did in 28 seconds flat.

Born on 4 November in 1939 at the city of Bangalore in Karnataka state, Shakuntala Devi is an outstanding calculating prodigy of India. Belonging from a very humble family, Shakuntala Devi’s father was employed as a trapeze and tightrope performer and later on, as a human cannonball in a circus. It was once while she was playing cards with her father at the age of three that it was discovered that she is a calculating genius. It turn out that she beat him not by slight of the hand, but by memorizing the cards.

Read on this biography to know more about the life history of Shakuntala Devi. When Shakuntala Devi was six years old, she demonstrated her calculation skills at the University of Mysore. And by the time, she was 8 years old, she had again proved herself successful at Annamalai University by doing the same. However despite apprehensions from some quarters, Shakuntala Devi did not lose her calculating ability with the setting in of adulthood like other prodigies such as Truman Henry Safford.

On the other hand, in the year 1977, Shakuntala Devi obtained the 23rd root of the digit number ‘201’ mentally. On 18 June in 1980, she again solved the multiplication of two 13-digit numbers 7,686,369,774,870 x 2,465,099,745,779 that were randomly picked by the computer department of Imperial College in London. And this, she did in 28 seconds flat. Her correct answer to this multiplication sum was 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730. This incident has been included on the 26th page of the famous 1995 Guinness Book of Records.

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Date of Birth : Dec 22, 1887

Date of Death : Apr 26, 1920

Place of Birth : Tamil Nadu

Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920) hailed as an all-time great mathematician, like Euler, Gauss or Jacobi, for his natural genius, has left behind 4000 original theorems, despite his lack of formal education and a short life-span. In his formative years, after having failed in his F.A. (First examination in Arts) class at College, he ran from pillar to post in search of a benefactor. It is during this period, 1903-1914, he kept a record of the final results of his original research work in the form of entries in two large-sized Note Books. These were the ones which he showed to Dewan Bahadur Ramachandra Rao (Collector of Nellore), V. Ramaswamy Iyer (Founder of Indian Mathematical Society), R. Narayana Iyer (Treasurer of IMS and Manager, Madras Port Trust), and to several others to convince them of his abilities as a Mathematician. The orchestrated efforts of his admirers, culminated in the encouragement he received from Prof. G.H. Hardy of Trinity College, Cambridge, whose warm response to the historic letter of Ramanujan which contained about 100 theorems, resulted in inducing the Madras University, to its lasting credit, to rise to the occasion thrice – in offering him the first research scholarship of the University in May 1913 ; then in offering him a scholarship of 250 pounds a year for five years with 100 pounds for passage by ship and for initial outfit to go to England in 1914 ; and finally, by granting Ramanujan 250 pounds a year as an allowance for 5 years commencing from April 1919 soon after his triumphant return from Cambridge “with a scientific standing and reputation such as no Indian has enjoyed before”.

Ramanujan was awarded in 1916 the B.A. Degree by research of the Cambridge University. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in Feb. 1918 being a “Research student in Mathematics Distinguished as a pure mathematician particularly for his investigations in elliptic functions and the theory of numbers” and he was elected to a Trinity College Fellowship, in Oct. 1918 (- a prize fellowship worth 250 pounds a year for six years with no duties or condition, which he was not destined to avail of). The “Collected Papers of Ramanujan” was edited by Profs. G.H.Hardy, P.V. Seshu Aiyar and B.M. Wilson and first published by Cambridge University Press in 1927 (later by Chelsea, 1962 ; and by Narosa, 1987), seven years after his death. His `Lost’ Notebook found in the estate of Prof. G.N. Watson in the spring of 1976 by Prof. George Andrews of Pennsylvania State University, and its facsimile edition was brought out by Narosa Publishing House in 1987, on the occasion of Ramanujan’s birth centenary. His bust was commissioned by Professors R. Askey, S. Chandrasekhar, G.E. Andrews, Bruce C. Berndt (`the gang of four’!) and `more than one hundred mathematicians and scientists who contributed money for the bust’ sculpted by Paul Granlund in 1984 and another was commissioned for the Ramanujan Institute of the University of Madras, by Mr. Masilamani in 1994. His original Note Books have been edited in a series of five volumes by Bruce C. Berndt (“Ramanujan Note Books”, Springer, Parts I to V, 1985 onwards), who devoted his attention to each and every one of the three to four thousand theorems. Robert Kanigel recently wrote a delightfully readable biography entitled : “The Man who knew Infinity : a life of the Genius Ramanujan” (Scribners 1991; Rupa & Co. 1993). Truly, the life of Ramanujan in the words of C.P. Snow: “is an admirable story and one which showers credit on nearly everyone”.

During his five year stay in Cambridge, which unfortunately overlapped with the first World War years, he published 21 papers, five of which were in collaboration with Prof. G.H. Hardy and these as well as his earlier publications before he set sail to England are all contained in the “Collected Papers of Srinivasa Ramanujan”, referred earlier. It is important to note that though Ramanujan took his “Note Books” with him he had no time to delve deep into them. The 600 formulae he jotted down on loose sheets of paper during the one year he was in India, after his meritorious stay at Cambridge, are the contents of the `Lost’ Note Book found by Andrews in 1976. He was ailing throughout that one year after his return from England (March 1919 – April 26, 1920). The last and only letter he wrote to Hardy, from India, after his return, in Jan. 1920, four months before his demise, contained no news about his declining health but only information about his latest work : “I discovered very interesting functions recently which I call `Mock’ theta-functions. Unlike the `False’ theta-functions (studied partially by Prof. Rogers in his interesting paper) they enter into mathematics as beautifully as ordinary theta-functions. I am sending you with this letter some examples … ”. The following observation of Richard Askey is noteworthy: “Try to imagine the quality of Ramanujan’s mind, one which drove him to work unceasingly while deathly ill, and one great enough to grow deeper while his body became weaker. I stand in awe of his accomplishments; understanding is beyond me. We would admire any mathematician whose life’s work was half of what Ramanujan found in the last year of his life while he was dying”.

As for his place in the world of Mathematics, we quote Bruce C Berndt: “Paul Erdos has passed on to us Hardy’s personal ratings of mathematicians. Suppose that we rate mathematicians on the basis of pure talent on a scale from 0 to 100, Hardy gave himself a score of 25, Littlewood 30, Hilbert 80 and Ramanujan 100”. G.H.Hardy, in 1923, edited Chapter XII of Ramanujan’s second Notebook on Hypergeometric series which contained 47 main theorems, many of them followed by a number of corollaries and particular cases. This work had taken him so many weeks that he felt that if he were to edit the entire Notebooks “it will take the whole of my lifetime. I cannot do my own work. This would not be proper.” He urged Indian authorities and G.N.Watson and B.M. Wilson to edit the Notebooks. Watson and Wilson divided the task of editing the Notebooks – Chapters 2 to 13 were to be edited by Wilson and Chapters 14 to 21 by Watson. Unfortunately, the premature death of Wilson, in 1935, at the age of 38, aborted this effort. In 1957, with monetary assistance from Sir Dadabai Naoroji Trust, at the instance of Professors Homi J Bhabha and K. Chandrasekaran, the Tata institute of Fundamental Research published a facsimile edition of the Notebooks of Ramanujan in two volumes, with just an introductory para about them. The formidable task of truly editing the Notebooks was taken up in right earnest by Professor Bruce C. Berndt of the University of Illinois, in May 1977 and his dedicated efforts for nearly two decades has resulted in the Ramanujan’s Notebooks published by Springer-Verlag in five Parts, the first of which appeared in 1985. The three original Ramanujan Notebooks are with the Library of the University of Madras, some of the correspondence, papers/letters on or about Ramanujan are with the National Archives at New Delhi and the Tamil Nadu Archives, and a large number of his letters and connected papers/correspondence and notes by Hardy, Watson, Wilson are with the Wren Library of Trinity College, Cambridge. “Ramanujan : Letters and Commentary”, by Bruce C. Berndt and Robert A. Rankin (published jointly by the American Mathematical Society and London Math. Society, 1995) is a recent publication. The Ramanujan Institute for Advanced Study in Mathematics of the University of Madras is situated at a short distance from the famed Marina Beach and is close to the Administrative Buildings of the University and its Library. The bust of Ramanujan made by Mr. Masilamani is housed in the Ramanujan Institute. In 1992, the Ramanujan Museum was started in the Avvai Kalai Kazhagam in Royapuram. Mrs. Janakiammal Ramanujan, the widow of Ramanujan, lived for several decades in Triplicane, close to the University’s Marina Campus and died on April 13, 1994. A bust of Ramanujan, sculpted by Paul Granlund was presented to her and it is now with her adopted son Mr. W. Narayanan, living in Triplicane.

]]>Date of Birth : Jan 1, 1894

Date of Death : Feb 4, 1974

Place of Birth : Kolkata

Satyendra Nath Bose (January 1, 1894 – February 4, 1974) was a Bengali Indian physicist, specializing in mathematical physics. Bose was born in Kolkata (Calcutta), the eldest of seven children. His father, Surendranath Bose, worked in the Engineering Department of the East India Railway. He knew many languages and also could play Esraj (a musical instrument similar to violin) very well. Bose attended Hindu High School in Calcutta, and later attended Presidency College, also in Calcutta, earning the highest marks at each institution. From 1916 to 1921 he was a lecturer in the physics department of Calcutta University. In 1921, he joined the physics department of the then recently founded Dacca University (now called University of Dhaka), again as a lecturer. In 1926 he became a professor and was made head of the physics department, and continued teaching at Dacca University until 1945. At that time he returned to Calcutta, and taught at Calcutta University until 1956, when he retired and was made professor emeritus.

Although more than one Nobel Prize was awarded for the discovery of the boson, Bose was not awarded the Nobel Prize for their discovery or for his famous Bose-Einstein statistics. While at the University of Dhaka, Bose wrote a short article called ‘Planck’s Law and the Hypothesis of Light Quanta’, describing the photoelectric effect and based on a lecture he had given on the ultraviolet catastrophe. During this lecture, in which he had intended to show his students that theory predicted results not in accordance with experimental results, Bose made an embarrassing statistical error which gave a prediction that agreed with observations, a contradiction. Since the coins are distinct, there are two outcomes which produce a head and a tail. The probability of two heads is one-fourth. The error was a simple mistake that would appear obviously wrong to anyone with a basic understanding of statistics, and similar to arguing that flipping two fair coins will produce two heads one-third of the time. However, it produced correct results, and Bose realized it might not be a mistake at all. He for the first time held that the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution would not be true for microscopic particles where fluctuations due to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle will be significant. Thus he stressed in the probability of finding particles in the phase space each having volumes h^f and discarding the distinct position and momentum of the particles. Physics journals refused to publish Bose’s paper. Discouraged, he wrote to Albert Einstein, who immediately agreed with him. Bose had earlier translated Einstein’s theory of General Relativity from German to English. It is said that Bose had taken Albert Einstein as his Guru (the mentor). Because photons are indistinguishable from each other, one cannot treat any two photons having equal energy as being different from each other. By analogy, if the coins in the above example behaved like photons and other bosons, the probability of producing two heads would indeed be one-third. Bose’s “error” is now called Bose-Einstein statistics. Einstein adopted the idea and extended it to atoms. From this, the duo predicted the existence of phenomena which became known as Bose-Einstein condensate, a dense collection of bosons (which are particles with integer spin, named after Bose), which was proven to exist by experiment in 1995. Bose’s ideas were afterward well received in the world of physics, and he was granted leave from the University of Dacca to travel to Europe in 1924. He spent a year in Paris and worked with Marie Curie, and met several other well-known scientists. He then spent another year abroad, working with Einstein in Berlin. Upon his return to Dhaka, he was made a professor in 1926. He did not have a doctorate, and so ordinarily he would not be qualified for the post, but Einstein recommended him. His work ranged from X-ray crystallography to grand unified theories. He together with Meghnad Saha published an equation of state for real gases. Apart from physics he did some research in biochemistry and literature (Bengali, English). He made deep studies in chemistry, geology, zoology, anthropology, engineering and other sciences. Being of Bengali origin he devoted a lot of time to promoting Bengali as a teaching language, translating scientific papers into it, and promoting the development of the region. In 1944 Bose was elected General President of the Indian Science Congress. In 1958 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society.