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Ramanujan’s early 20th century work will be focus of Pitcher Lecture Series

George E. Andrews


George E. Andrews, the Evan Pugh Professor of Mathematics at Penn State University, will give three lectures, collectively titled “Ramanujan and his Mathematics,” from April 16 through 18.

“Srinivasa Ramanujan is one of the most fascinating figures in the history of mathematics,” says Don Davis, professor of mathematics. “His insights about number theory were extraordinary. No one can understand how he discovered some of his remarkable formulas, but our speaker, George Andrews, understands Ramanujan better than anyone else."

His first lecture, titled “The Indian Genius, Ramanujan: His Life and the Excitement of his Mathematics,” will be at 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 16 in the Lewis Lab Auditorium. It is designed to be accessible and appreciated by the general public, Davis says.

The second and third lectures will be at 4:10 p.m. on Tuesday, April 17 and Wednesday, April 18 in Auditorium 3 of Neville Hall. The talks are titled, respectively: "Rogers and Ramanujan" and "The Lost Notebook of Ramanujan."

The series of lectures is held in honor of the recently deceased A. Everett Pitcher, who was secretary of the American Mathematical Society from 1967 until 1988. Pitcher served in the mathematics department at Lehigh from 1938 until 1978, when he retired as Distinguished Professor of Mathematics.

An enduring source of inspiration

Early in his career, Andrews found an enduring source of research inspiration in a fundamental branch of number theory called partitions, which studies the ways that whole numbers can be split into sums of whole numbers, and in mock theta functions. These functions were first discovered by the Indian mathematician Ramanujan (1888-1920) during the last year of his life.

After graduation from Oregon State University in 1960 with both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics, Andrews spent a year in Cambridge as a Fulbright and then entered graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania.

It was in a graduate course at Penn where Andrews became reacquainted with Ramanujan’s work. He remained fascinated by the work of the famed mathematician, and particularly with a tantalizing letter Ramanujan wrote to a colleague shortly before his early death, hinting that he had managed to discover some of the mock theta functions that baffled others.

Several decades later, in 1975, Andrews discovered nearly 100 loose pages of Ramanujan’s handwritten pages among a collection of dusty papers in a Trinity College (Cambridge, U.K.) library and quickly realized that the papers contained the mock theta functions Ramanujan had spoken of.

“It was a gold mine,” Andrews would later tell PNAS, a journal of the National Academy of Sciences, to which he was elected in 2003, about the collection the mathematics community hails as “the Lost Notebook.” Since then, he has been the principal explicator of them.

Andrews serves on the editorial board for numerous journals, including Discrete Mathematics,Ramanujan Journal, Contemporary Mathematics, Journal of Combinatorial Theory, and Annals of Combinatorics.

For additional information, please call (610) 758-3731 or go online.

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Tuesday, April 10, 2007

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