S. Minakshisundaram: A Glimpse into his life and work

By S. Thangavelu, Indian Statical Institute, Banglore.

During the period 1900-1950 India witnessed the emergence of several pure mathematicians such as K Ananda Rau (1893-1966), R Vaidyanathaswamy (1894-1960), T Vijayaraghavan (1902-1955), S S Pillai (1901-1950) and S. Minakshisundaram (1913-1968). With the excption of Vaidyanathaswamy who studied logic, set theory and general topology, all the rest were first class analysts. This is not at all surprising given the fact that both Ananda Rau and Vijayaraghavan were students of G H Hardy anf the other two studied with Ananda Rau. In this article we would like to introduce Minakshisundaram to the readers of Resonance and give a brief summary of his work. For more details about his life and personality we refer the readers to the obituary written by K.G. Ramanathan (8). Indeed, we have drawn generously from this article.

Subbaramiah Minakshisundaram was born in Trichur, Kerala on october 12,1913. His father was originally from Salem, Tamilnadu (not far away from the birth place of Ramanujan) and so Minakshisundaram had all his education in Madras. He took his BA (Hons.) in Mathematics from Loyala College in 1934 securing a first class in the Madras University examination. Though there was always a strong tradition of scholarship and learning in and around Madras, many brilliant young men of that time used to opt for the more lucrative and prestigious administrative services. But young Minakshisundaram was diffrent-he joined Madras University as a research scholar and started working with Ananda Rau.

After taking the DSc degree from Madras University in 1940, Minakshisundaram found himself without job.

Thanks to the timely help of Fr. Racine who was professor at Loyola College, he could earn a living by coaching students for the universiy examinations. During these years he and Fr. Racine organised a weekly Mathematics Seminar which attacted many enthusiastic participants like K Chandrasekharan and K.G. Ramanathan. Fortunately he got the job of a lecture at Andhra University in Waltair.

In 1944, Marshall H Stone was in Madras and he wanted to meet the best young mathematicians there, especially Minakshisundaram and Chandrasekharan. M.H. Stone, who was a proffessor at Chicago, had a reputation for ‘discovering’ young talents and shapong their career. For both Minakshisundaram and Chandrasekharan this meeting with Stone was turning point. By the efforts of Stone they were offered a membership at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. The atmosphere at the Institute gave him a great boost and it was there where Minakshisundaram’s best mathematical works were done. He collaborated with the Swedish mathematician Ake Pleijel and wrote his most quoted paper.

Minakshisundaram returned to india in 1948 by which time he was Internationally recognized for his brilliant work. Early in 1950 Andhra Univeristy promoted him to full proffessorship in Mathematical Physics. Soon after he became a professor, he spent a few months at the Tata institute of Fundamental Research, Bombay where he collaborated with K. Chandrasekharan in writing of the monograph ‘Typical means’. (K. Chandrasekharan was brought to India in 1949 by Homi Bhabha to build the School of Mathematics in TIFR which he did with great success). Minakshisundaram made a couple of brief visits to the US and in 1958 went to Edinburgh to give a half-hour lecture on Hilbert algebras at the International Congress of Mathematicians.