The magic of mathematics

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A VETERAN: Prof. Alladi Ramakrishnan.
A VETERAN: Prof. Alladi Ramakrishnan.

For 60 years, Prof. Alladi Ramakrishnan has been pursuing research in his "only passion in life ... Mathematics." The zeal this founder of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences (MATSCIENCE) demonstrates towards the Mother of all Sciences, continues undiminished to this day. Recently he spoke to The Hindu Education Plus on the significance of mathematics as a subject of higher study and research. He also touched upon how children can be made to understand the magic, which this science weaves in intense minds."As far as I am concerned, Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity is the royal entrance for children who are interested in mathematics and theoretical physics. The mere challenge of understanding the meaning of space and time can fire desire in the young minds. For me it started at age 17," notes the octogenarian mathematics teacher and researcher. Love for mathematics cannot be simply injected into children. "It is like Faith... it will come to you." However, for creating an atmosphere of research and higher study into mathematics, "we need more MATSCIENCE-like institutions. But they should be headed by a person with a vision, one who thinks beyond the perks of the posting," Prof. Ramakrishnan notes. And then there should be more high-level conferences where original work can be presented. "Today there are only workshops with people solving repeatedly the same problems. I remember the day when Sir C.V. Raman invited me to a conference and told me to present any original work. He told me `I do not care if it is good or bad. But it should be original. Established or old work is easily available in libraries.'" That is why, he asserts, young researchers should attempt only original work and go on studying it till they realise whether it is right or wrong.As an example, Prof. Ramakishnan holds out a four-page manuscript of his own original problem on why 1-V{+2} is the expression used for connoting the famous Lorentz - Fitzgerald contraction in Special Relativity. "It is just mathematical logic." he adds.The understanding of the problem, for him, is supreme ecstasy.He regrets that today passion for doing advanced research and creative work has diminished though salaries and facilities have improved. "So, less of research is happening in this country." But great works can be done only by enjoying creative activity and work. Somehow "we need to infuse this spirit of creativity and original work in the new generation," the veteran teacher-researcher adds.But how can this be done?"How is it done at Harvard or Princeton?" he shoots back. There is an atmosphere of excellence. Indian students have proved that they are capable of fantastic work, but they do not have the initiative to take the first step, but would rather follow and that is probably why they enjoy computer sciences... there's little creativity or discovery, but it gets them money. Or there's smug satisfaction in mediocre research work. And he notes "What we need is a new generation impatient for opportunity, intolerant of mediocrity, full of manly pride and confidence in their effort, inspired by the desire for creative work... These words I said in 1982 and this remains true even today."K. RAMACHANDRAN



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