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Monday, July 08, 2019

Paul Erdős, a legendary mathematician in Madras | Society - The Hindu

A charming story of the Hungarian genius Paul Erdős and how he encouraged young students, summarizes Vijaysree Venkatraman, Boston-based journalist. 

Through his life and work, Paul Erdős continues to inspire mathematicians to find answers to long-standing puzzles.
Photo: courtesy Krishnaswami Alladi  

On a winter’s day in January 1975, two men walked down the sandy stretch of Marina Beach in Chennai. It was early afternoon, but there was a breeze blowing, and they had the place pretty much to themselves. One was a final year B.Sc. student from Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda College; the other an older, frail-looking foreigner. Initially, the older man asked about some landmarks on that stretch, including the impressive Indo-Saracenic building that houses the University of Madras, but after that the conversation drifted to advanced mathematics. Clearly, this man was no ordinary tourist.

Paul Erdős, the legendary Hungarian mathematician, was on his first trip to Chennai, or Madras, as it was called then. At 21, he had earned his Ph.D. from the University of Budapest. This was in 1934. In the next six decades, he would go on to publish over 1,500 papers, an unsurpassed record. He made fundamental contributions to certain branches of mathematics — number theory, in particular — and pioneered discrete mathematics, the foundation of computer science. A bachelor, he had no permanent job or home address. In the pre-Internet era, he connected researchers across the globe who might otherwise have toiled away on problems on their own, making little headway. His life’s mission to discover and nurture young mathematicians.

The young man who discussed mathematical concepts with Erdős on the beach was Krishnaswami Alladi, the son of Alladi Ramakrishnan, founder of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences (Matscience) in Chennai...

Nomadic genius
Krishnaswami, who is now a professor of mathematics at the University of Florida, Gainesville, recalls how he had contacted the nomadic genius. As a B.Sc. student, working on an independent project on number theory, he had made some discoveries and had come up with questions that no one around him knew the answers to.

Source: The Hindu