This month sees the release of the film ‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’ based on the life of the mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920). Parts of the film were shot here at Trinity College. Some of his papers (Add.ms.a.94) are deposited in the College Library and can be consulted online via the Wren Digital Library.
Ramanujan was born in Erode, India in 1887. He showed early mathematical ability which developed rapidly during his teenage years. He published his first paper in 1911 and encouraged by correspondence with G. H. Hardy at Trinity College, he obtained a research scholarship at the University of Madras. He came to England in 1914 to begin a productive collaboration with Hardy. Ramanujan was particularly prolific in the field of number theory. In 1918 he became a fellow of the Royal Society and was subsequently offered a fellowship at Trinity College. He was, however, beset by ill-health and returned to India in 1919. He died in 1920.
Box Add.ms.a.94 contains a number of manuscripts by Ramanujan together with some correspondence with him and later correspondence about his work. They were found amongst the papers of the mathematician G N Watson who had probably received the majority of the material from G H Hardy before the latter’s death in 1947 and were given to Trinity by Robert Rankin, Watson’s immediate successor in the Chair of Pure Mathematics at Birmingham, in December 1968.
The most significant item is probably the so-called lost-notebook (not a notebook, nor strictly lost) which includes material from Ramanujan’s last year spent not in Cambridge but back home in India, in which he enters much more exotic areas of mathematics than the more classical areas of number theory to which his earlier work had been more-or-less confined.
In addition this small collection includes other important items such as his last letter to Hardy explaining ‘mock’ theta functions and papers on highly composite numbers, singular moduli, Rogers-Ramanujan identities and Mersenne numbers. Ramanujan is recognised as one of the most original contributors to the field of mathematics.
Ramanujan’s papers have been digitised and can be viewed here.