The man who knew infinity: a movie about Ramanujan

Thank you Youtube suggestions! Today I came across this trailer of an upcoming movie, "The man who knew infinity".

The movie depicts the story of one of the finest minds of last century and one of the greatest mathematicians of all time, Srinivasa Ramanujan. He was what you'd call a true genius, an independent thinker who could not bend to the typical mathematical formalism nor to social conventions. He was born and lived the first part of his life in (British) India, in the region of Madras. in He showed a lively interest in mathematics already at the age of 11, and by the age of 15 he was able to master advanced notions and carry on his own research, often on known results he was not aware of. Basically he was re-building mathematics from almost scratch! He won a college scholarship, but he was so focused on mathematics that he performed poorly in other subjects and lost it. He tried to enrol in another college, with same results. His thrive to study mathematics and only mathematics led him to extreme poverty and corrupted his health. At age 21, he married and got to search for a real job. He found one in accountancy, a trivial job for his abilities which left him with much spare time to continue his studies.
In 1913, Ramanujan took the initiative and started sending letters to English mathematicians, for support and advice. Among his recipients, was Godfrey Hardy, a brilliant researcher of mathematical analysis and number theory. Ramanujan had no formal education in mathematics. Most of his work relied on epiphanies he had during spiritual meditation. Many mathematicians were skeptic of his true abilities, but came around after making direct contact with him. Hardy was the opposite as the Indian mathematician: he was atheist, while Ramanujan was deeply religious; he championed formalism and pure proofs, while the other basically guessed (right) deep results and did not care about technical details. However, Hardy managed to see past his own style and became Ramanujan's best supporter. He convinced him to travel to England, where he lived the last years of his unfortunately short life. Hardy tried to educate him, without suppressing his unique style, and polished his results so that they would be easy to publish on journals. In 1918 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society and became one of his youngest members. In the same year he was also appointed Fellow of the Trinity College, in Cambridge, the first Indian to be honoured with the title. One year later, his health forced him to return to India to his wife, and he died in 1920 at the age of 32 from an incurable sickness.

Bust of Ramanujan in the garden of Birla Industrial & Technological Museum (source: Wikipedia).
Bust of Ramanujan in the garden of Birla Industrial & Technological Museum (source: Wikipedia).

He left the mathematical community with an incredible treasure. Most of his results needed to be proved (or disproved) and a journal was founded to collect results inspired by his work. In 2011, India declared the day of his birth, December 22nd, as "National Mathematics Day". He also left us the taxicab numbers. His most famous conjecture, named after him, waited for 50 years to be solved by Pierre Deligne.
I am very excited about this upcoming movie, and while waiting for it, I'll make sure to read the book which inspired it.

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Paola Elefante

Technical Project Manager working in Supply Chain Management solutions at Relex Solutions Oy. Proud mother with the best husband ever. Shameless nerd&geek. Feminist. Undercover gourmet.

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