A hundred and one years ago, in 1913, the acclaimed British mathematician G. H. Hardy accustomed a letter out of the blue. The Indian (British colonial) stamps and analytical autography bent his attention, and back he opened it, he was flabbergasted. Its pages were awash with equations – abounding of which he had never apparent before. There were abounding kinds of formulas there, and those that aboriginal bent his absorption had to do with algebraic numbers. Hardy was the arch cardinal theorist in the apple – how could he not admit the identities apropos to such numbers, scribbled on the asperous paper? Were these new derivations, or were they aloof cool algebraic scrawls? Later, Hardy would say this about the formulas: “They defeated me completely. I had never apparent annihilation in the atomic like it before!”

Now, for the aboriginal time, mathematicians accept articular the mathematics abaft these advance scrawls – address added ablaze on the adeptness who fabricated them.

The letter was accounting by Srinivasa Ramanujan, a poverty-stricken, hardly active adolescent man from the southern-Indian burghal of Madras, who had little algebraic training but a aberrant adeptness to acquire algebraic identities acutely out of the void. The equations he beatific Hardy came with no affidavit or abstruse explanation. Ramanujan eventually said that the formulas came to him in a dream, presented as algebraic truths by his family’s goddess, Namagiri Amman (generally accustomed in India as Lakshmi, the wife of Vishnu).

Hardy showed the abnormal letter and others that followed to adolescent mathematicians, and some told him they believed the biographer was a charlatan claiming forgeries as math. But one of them, Percy MacMahon of Cambridge, saw a abysmal affiliation amid Ramanujan’s assignment and partitions of numbers he had been alive on, and this acumen helped argue Hardy that Ramanujan’s writings were both accurate and new. Belief the belletrist further, Hardy absitively that algebraic identities included in them – involving absolute sums and absolute products, alleged q-series – were authentic, and that they were actual admired to mathematics as a way of anticipation algebraic numbers. It afterwards became bright that the key to Ramanujan’s formulas were two peculiar q-series: the alleged “Rogers-Ramanujan identities,” aboriginal advised in the backward 1800s by the British mathematician Leonard James Rogers. Hardy assured about Ramanujan’s identities: “They had to accept been accounting bottomward by a mathematician of the accomplished class. They charge be accurate because no one would accept the acuteness to ad-lib them.”

Impressed and absorbed by the antecedent of these formulas, Hardy arrive Ramanujan to accompany him in Cambridge. The adolescent Indian accustomed the action and boarded a address from Madras to London afterwards accepting permission for the cruise from his mother and the ancestors goddess. Hardy and Ramanujan formed calm in Cambridge for a few short, acute years, Ramanujan bearing hundreds of new algebraic results, which Hardy approved to explain and prove calm with him. Hardy would say, backward in life, that bringing Ramanujan to England was his greatest accomplishment as a mathematician.

But Ramanujan was already ailing back he accustomed in Cambridge, and was frequently ailing with assorted symptoms, initially believed to be of tuberculosis but now assured to accept been a abject alarmist infection. His bloom attenuated steadily, and he assuredly absitively to acknowledgment to India to be aing to his family. He died there in 1920, at the adolescent age of 32.

Since then, mathematicians accept been absorbed by Ramanujan’s after-effects and there accept been abounding attempts to acquisition the antecedent of his equations that aftermath algebraic numbers. Freeman Dyson of the Institute for Advanced Abstraction at Princeton reportedly spent the black War years in London application himself with the abstraction of Ramanujan’s identities. But the agent of the formulas remained a abstruseness for accession 70 years.

In April, on the 100th anniversary of Ramanujan’s accession in Cambridge, the antecedent of his equations was assuredly found. Ken Ono of Emory University, his alum apprentice Michael Griffin, and their aide Ole Warnaar of the University of Queensland presented theorems they had aloof proved, which awfully generalize the assignment of Ramanujan and analyze the antecedent of his algebraic formulas.

Ono and colleagues apparent that the two Rogers-Ramanujan identities were aloof specific examples of a absolutely absolute backlog of accepted identities employing agnate absolute sums and products. In Ono’s words, they had begin the mother lode that gave Ramanujan his “gold nuggets.”

The new assignment is actual involved, including mathematics that did not abide at the time of Ramanujan. Ono and his collaborators acclimated avant-garde representation theory (a allotment of abstruse algebra) as able-bodied as modular forms (an breadth in algebraic analysis) – both of which had helped Andrew Wiles prove Fermat’s Last Theorem – and additionally employed Hall-Littlewood polynomials.

This new, all-inclusive ocean of Rogers-Ramanujan-Ono-Griffin-Warnaar identities has the adorable acreage that it produces algebraic numbers (which are about adamantine to obtain) absolutely readily. One of them is Φ (phi) – the “golden ratio” all-over in art and nature. This number, 1.618…, is the absolute of alternating agreement of the Fibonacci sequence, which alike fabricated an actualization in Dan Brown’s book The Da Vinci Code.

Phi was one of the key numbers that active Ramanujan’s attention, and the new assignment paves the way to the analysis of abounding agnate numbers. What the green Ramanujan claimed to accept gotten from his goddess is apparent to aggregate one archetype of a above basal accuracy that avant-garde mathematics now possesses – a way of breeding agnate numbers.

Ramanujan and his assignment accept admiring advanced attention. Professor Bruce Berndt of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has spent 40 years belief Ramanujan’s belletrist and notebooks – including a “lost notebook” apparent in 1976 – aggravating to accumulation proofs for the algebraic after-effects Ramanujan had declared as facts.

“We had a abode to start,” he told me, “so our assignment was somewhat easier – we took Ramanujan’s identities as true, and again accepted them.” Again he added: “But the proofs were actual hard.” How did Ramanujan apperceive these things were true, how did he appear up with such abrupt algebraic facts? “We don’t apperceive Ramanujan’s insights,” he said. “Our proofs are acceptable abundant added difficult than the ones he had in his mind.”

So the abstruseness of how Ramanujan absolutely acquired his clear-sighted insights about numbers and equations charcoal alike now. The brain-teaser is reflected in conceivably the best acclaimed adventure about the Indian cardinal theorist. While Ramanujan was lying in a hospital bed in Putney, England, in 1917, Hardy came to see him. “My auto had a rather addled number,” Hardy said, aloof authoritative conversation, “it was 1729.”

“No, Hardy! No, Hardy!” Ramanujan jumped up in bed and exclaimed: “It is a actual absorbing number! It’s the aboriginal cardinal expressible as the sum of two cubes in two altered ways.” (This is because 1729 = 103 93 = 123 13.) Ramanujan aloof artlessly knew such things, abrogation both proofs and capacity to others.

The numbers that appear out as solutions of equations such as the ones advised by Ramanujan are of a assertive kind, and Φ is one archetype of them. These are the algebraic numbers. The approach about such numbers is absorbing in its own right.

We apperceive abounding kinds of numbers, and it’s advantageous to abridge them here. The simplest and earliest-discovered numbers (already accustomed to aboriginal humans) are alleged the accustomed numbers: 1, 2, 3,…,to infinity, and this set is denoted by N. Again if you add to these numbers zero, you anatomy what mathematicians alarm a accumulation beneath addition, which agency you can now ascertain accretion inverses, i.e., the abrogating integers. The continued set of numbers is alleged the integers and denoted by Z (from the German for numbers, Zahlen). Add accession operation, multiplication, and you now additionally accept multiplicative inverses (except for zero), which are all the fractions, acceptation quotients of integers, and the continued set is now the acreage of rational numbers, denoted by Q. Back you add to this set all the aberrant numbers (numbers that can’t be accounting as quotients of integers), you get the field R of all the absolute numbers (these are the numbers on the absolute cardinal line, and we alarm them “real” to analyze them from abstract numbers; if you again additionally add to them all combinations of the abstract numbers and absolute numbers you get the acreage C of circuitous numbers).

The German mathematician Georg Cantor accepted in the 1800s that while all these sets of numbers are infinite, they are not of the aforementioned absolute size. Using able methods, he showed that there are as abounding rational numbers as there are integers and absolute integers. So N, Z, and Q accept the aforementioned absolute admeasurement (or cardinality), while the real numbers, R, accept a college adjustment of beyond (although we don’t apperceive what it is – Cantor’s unprovable assumption about it is alleged the continuum hypothesis). The “enlarged infinity” is because of all the aberrant numbers – there are aloof too abounding of them! We say that N, Z, and Q are countable, while R is endless (and so is C).

But the adventure gets complicated. Numbers that can be acquired as solutions of equations with rational-number coefficients are alleged algebraic. So algebraic numbers can be irrational, for example √2. This cardinal is algebraic because it is the band-aid of the blueprint x2 – 2 = 0, whose coefficients are all rational (in fact, integer): 1 and -2. Algebraic numbers were one of the capital credibility of absorption in Ramanujan’s work. The aureate ratio, Φ=1.618…, is aberrant but algebraic, because it is the band-aid of the equation x2 – x – 1 = 0. Ramanujan acclimated absolute sums and articles to access that cardinal in accession way. You can do it by assuming the (infinite) operation on your calculator: 1 1 = 1/x 1 = 1/x 1 = 1/x… and see that the cardinal in the affectation converges to 1.618… and alternately to 0.618… (which is 1/Φ). This alternation of operations is the one defined by Ramanujan (although of advance he didn’t use a calculator).

One alluring actuality about algebraic numbers is that they are countable, i.e., they accept the aforementioned adjustment of beyond as N, Z, and Q – alike admitting they are associates of the (uncountable) college set R. Thus their adjustment of beyond is added pedestrian. The determined aberrant numbers – those that are not algebraic – are alleged abstruse numbers. These accommodate π (pi) and e. There are “infinitely abounding more” such numbers than there are algebraic numbers, or integers, or rational numbers!

An absorbing actuality is that it is because π is abstruse that it’s absurd to aboveboard the circle, as the ancients had approved so adamantine to do. This actuality became accustomed alone in the nineteenth century, back algebraic numbers became well-understood. It so happens that to aboveboard the circle, acceptation to assemble with straightedge and ambit a aboveboard whose breadth is the aforementioned as that of a accustomed circle, is alike to analytic an blueprint with rational coefficients and getting π as the solution. This is absurd because π is transcendental, and accordingly not algebraic. There can never be such an blueprint that would crop π as a solution.

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