Detail from a poster for "The Man Who Knew Infinity," starring Dev Patel as Srinivasa Ramanujan and Jeremy Irons as the British mathematician G.H. Hardy who mentored him. "The Spirit of Ramanujan Math Talent Initiative" aims to spark similar collaborations, to drive progress in math and education.
By Carol Clark
The Templeton World Charity Foundation awarded $100,000 to Emory mathematician Ken Ono to support a program called "The Spirit of Ramanujan Math Talent Initiative,” which aims to find undiscovered mathematicians around the world and match them with advancement opportunities in the field.
Ono recently launched the initiative in conjunction with the Templeton World Charity Foundation; Expii.com – an open, personalized learning platform; and IFC Films and Pressman Film, producers of the motion picture “The Man Who Knew Infinity.”
The Spirit of Ramanujan initiative invites people to join in solving a series of mathematical puzzles at expii.com/ramanujan. “These puzzles are challenging but fun,” Ono says. “Expii is an instrument for people of all ages and walks of life, from all over the world, to become more engaged in math. Anyone with a computer or a smart phone can access the site and participate.”
The Templeton grant will support further enrichment for participants in the initiative who show great mathematical promise, including tailored educational opportunities for as many as 30 students and up to 10 Templeton-Ramanujan Summer Fellowships.
The initiative is inspired by the life of Srinivasa Ramanujan, the subject of the film “The Man Who Knew Infinity,” starring Dev Patel as Ramanujan and Jeremy Irons as British mathematician G.H. Hardy. In 1913, Ramanujan, a poor Hindu college dropout who was self-taught in mathematics, reached out to Hardy, who was so impressed by Ramanujan’s theories that he invited him to Cambridge to study and collaborate. Hardy’s mentorship burnished Ramanujan’s brilliant insights and brought them to a world stage, changing math and science forever.
“My character in the film, G.H. Hardy, states very directly that Ramanujan’s genius was not discovered because of his teachers, but because of Ramanujan’s own imagination and intuition,” Irons says. “I’m delighted that ‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’ has shared the story of this miraculous figure, inspiring this initiative. Hopefully we will be able to discover new minds, that in turn, will lead to continued progress in the world of mathematics.”
Ono served as the mathematical advisor and an associate producer of the film. Ono’s research as a number theorist and his personal life are also deeply interwoven with the story of Ramanujan. He recently published a memoir entitled “My Search for Ramanujan: How I Learned to Count,” which he co-wrote with the late Amir Aczel.
“Everything about traditional education is fairly inelastic,” Ono says, “which is contrary to the story of what made Ramanujan successful. The Spirit of Ramanujan initiative aims to break the mold and find brilliant outliers who may not be thriving in the system so we can match them up with the resources they need. It may take 30 to 40 years to measure the success of this initiative. It can take humanity a long time to catch up with the ideas of outliers.”
The Spirit of Ramanujan Math Talent Initiative is headed by Ono with an advisory board of other mathematicians, including Manjul Bhargava (Princeton), Olga Holtz (Berkeley), Po-Shen Loh (Carenegie Mellon) and Sujatha Ramdorai (University of British Columbia).
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