Friday, 18 December 2015

Chennai Presidency College and Maths genius Ramanujan

Main entrance, the Presidency College.Chennai
Presidency College, an arts and science college in the city of Chennai in Tamil Nadu, India established as the Madras Preparatory School on October 15, 1840 during the British East India company rule, is a famous  old college.

It was  Lord Elphinstone, Governor of  Madras  who was  instrumental in establishing an educational institution in Madras (now Chennai) and chose Eyre Burton Powell, MA., C.S.i., a  Maths specialist from the University of Cambridge, as its first principal. As the arrival of Mr. Powell from England to Madras  got delayed and in his place, one  Mr Cooper, from the Hoogly College, Kolkata (Calcutta) carried on his duties. He and his staff  opened  Presidency School, a preparatory school, in a rented building in Egmore known as Edinburgh Home on 15 October. 1840. Cooper remained in the preparatory school for only a few months. Soon after Powell's  arrival, he returned to Calcutta to continue his educational services there. A  High School department  was opened in April 1841.The preparatory School was moved over to  to Popham's Broadway in 1841. Later it became Presidency College.

Upon the founding of the University of Madras in 1857, Presidency College got its affiliation. It was in 1870  the college moved to its present location on Kamaraj Salai, opposite Marina Beach.

E. B. Powell,First Principal, Presidency

Eyre Burton Powell, who was the first principal of Presidency College, about 160 years ago opened a Maths department with a modest ceremony. It was here the Maths genius of Srinivasa Ramanujan was brought to light. Till then he was groping in the dark with no guide and mentor.. P.V. Seshu Iyer, a well known  Maths professor at Government College, Kumbakonam, came to this college on transfer  and his student, Ramanujan who could not pass the college examination in Kumbakonam, also came to Madras on Iyer's advice. Unmindful of his failure in academics,  Prof, Seshu Iyer gave Ramanujan full support for his original concepts. In 1911, his major work  was sent to the Journal of Indian Mathematical Society.  It was here between 1910 and 1915 with support from Prof. Iyer and Prof. E.W. Middlemast, Ramanujan tackled  the problems in Prof. Hardy's monograph, 'Orders of Infinity.' On  January 16, 1913, the results were sent to Prof. Hardy,  English Mathematician of high repute. Prof. G.H. Hardy was known for his achievements in number theory and upon getting the results from Ramanujan, he  was taken aback and very much impressed by his original work. What surprised him was Ramajuan  had  no  formal training  whatsoever in western type of education with special reference to Maths.  Bye the by,  Hardy  himself was also a child prodigy in Maths, just like Ramanujan, when he was hardly two years old, he solved complex problems with ease. About Ramanujan's  advancement, the rest is history. He went to England to work with Prof. Hardy. Prof. Hardy enthusiastically  adopted and mentored  the self-taught Indian mathematical genius. Srinivasa Ramanujan ultimately had the unique distinction of getting  FRS, a rare distinction in those days for a person from the Indian subcontinent.  It is estimated that Ramanujan conjectured or proved over 3,000 theorems, identities and equations, properties of highly composite numbers, the partition function, etc., He identified several efficient and rapidly converging infinite series for the calculation of the value of π and they 've become basis for the fastest algorithms used by modern computers to compute π to ever increasing levelsA maths genius was discovered and Presidency college provided him a unique opportunity.

The department of Mathematics produced lots of talents over a period of timeDecades later it became The Institute of Mathematical Sciences in January, 1962 and after a couple of years it moved over to the present location in  Taramani. 

Among the numerous well known old students, the following are worthy of mention:

G.H.Hardy and S.

Srinivasa Ramanujan, FRS, Maths genius
K. M. Cariappa, first Commander-in-Chief of Defence Forces of independent India,
Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar - Nobel laureate in Physics,
C. P. Ramaswamy Iyer, Legal luminary and Dewan of Travancore, Vice Chancellor of Annamalai univ. and Banarus Hindu University.
C. Rajagopalachari, Chief Minister of Madras
Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, Nobel laureate in Physics.