Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920) was an Indian mathematician who made great and original contributions to many mathematical fields, including complex analysis, number theory, infinite series, and continued fractions. He was “discovered” by G. H. Hardy and J. E. Littlewood, two world-class mathematicians at Cambridge, and enjoyed an extremely fruitful period of collaboration with them from 1914 to 1919. Unfortunately, his mathematical career was curtailed by health problems; he returned to India and died when he was only 32 years old.
Hardy, who was a great mathematician in his own right, recognized Ramanujan’s genius from a series of letters that Ramanujan sent to mathematicians at Cambridge in 1913. Like much of his writing, the letters contained a dizzying array of unique and difficult results, stated without much explanation or proof. The contrast between Hardy, who was above all concerned with mathematical rigor and purity, and Ramanujan, whose writing was difficult to read and peppered with mistakes but bespoke an almost supernatural insight, produced a rich partnership.
Since his death, Ramanujan’s writings (many contained in his famous notebooks) have been studied extensively. Some of his conjectures and assertions have led to the creation of new fields of study. Some of his formulas are believed to be true but as yet unproven.
There are many existing biographies of Ramanujan. The Man Who Knew Infinity, by Robert Kanigel, is an accessible and well-researched historical account of his life.