The story is classic, a pure genius with an outpour of ideas, just waiting to be heard by the scientific community. His name is Ramanujan, born in a poor village in India to a poor family. The founder of the Indian Mathematics Society described him as:
“A short uncouth figure, stout, unshaven, not over clean, with one conspicuous feature-shining eyes- walked in with a frayed notebook under his arm. He was miserably poor. ... He opened his book and began to explain some of his discoveries. I saw quite at once that there was something out of the way; but my knowledge did not permit me to judge whether he talked sense or nonsense. ... I asked him what he wanted. He said he wanted a pittance to live on so that he might pursue his researches."
While in high school, he picked up a book called "Synopsis of Elementary Results In Pure Mathematics." After reading this book, pure math was all that occupied his mind. After finishing high school Ramanujan worked hard on getting scholarships, but since he concentrated only on math, he would always do well on the mathematics entrance exam, while failing all other subjects.
On his own, he taught himself mathematics, and on his own, he came up with some of the most profound mathematical discoveries. Some of those theories were already discovered, but due to lack of resources, Ramanujan was not aware of the latest mathematical findings. After Ramanujan gained recognition in India, he got a job as a clerk in the University of Madras. Through his job he had access to several books relating to pure math. One of those books was by G. H. Hardy, Ramanujan was intrigued by his book and wrote to him:
"I have had no university education but I have undergone the ordinary school course. After leaving school I have been employing the spare time at my disposal to work at mathematics. I have not trodden through the conventional regular course which is followed in a university course, but I am striking out a new path for myself. I have made a special investigation of divergent series in general and the results I get are termed by the local mathematicians as 'startling' "
"I was exceedingly interested by your letter and by the theorems which you state. You will however understand that, before I can judge properly of the value of what you have done, it is essential that I should see proofs of some of your assertions. Your results seem to me to fall into roughly three classes: (1) there are a number of results that are already known, or easily deducible from known theorems (2) there are results which, so far as I know, are new and interesting, but interesting rather from their curiosity and apparent difficulty than their importance (3) there are results which appear to be new and important... "
After a few letters, Ramanujan was given a scholarship and went to England to work with Hardy. England’s weather took a toll on Ramanujan’s health, and he was in and out of hospitals. One of the most interesting stories about Ramanujan, which shows his stunning number sense, goes something like this:
During an illness in England, Hardy visited Ramanujan in the hospital. When Hardy remarked that he had taken taxi number 1729, a singularly unexceptional number, Ramanujan immediately responded that this number was actually quite remarkable: it is the smallest integer that can be represented in two ways by the sum of two cubes: 1729=1^3+12^3=9^3+10^3.
How many of you could see that? I wasn’t even close!
In 1919 Ramanujan was sent back to India to recuperate from his illness where he died shortly after at age 32. Ramanujan’s notes were left with many unproven theories, to which many mathematicians indulged over for years after his death.
I have taken a course which included pure math, relating directly to Ramanujan’s specialty. I have to admit that it was the hardest math I have ever had to deal with, which makes me appreciate him even more.
Ramanujan worked hard before he got any real chance. Imagine all the potential that’s out there in third world countries. Brilliant people reside all over the world; the lucky ones get a break and benefit us, but what happens to the rest? Three years ago my friend and I were talking and he said “for all you know, the next Einstein could be a starving child in Africa” I have often thought about what he said, and I thought what better way to pass on the message than with Ramanujan’s story.