A Tribute to Prof S.Minakshisundaram: By Vidhyanidhi Vajhala
Prof. S.Minakshisundaram was our professor and head of the department of Mathematical Physics, Andhra University, India. When I joined as a student in B.Sc.(Hons) Mathematics in 1952. Earlier I had my school and college education in Gunupur and Parlakimedi, Orissa.
During my first year in Andhra University , we had as our teachers T.Venkatarayudu for Algebra, P.Sambasiva Rao for Geometry, T.S.G.Krishnamurthy for Mechanics, D.R.K.Sangameshwara Rao for Calculus. T.Venkatarayudu left for U.S. in October to Courant Institute of Sciences. We expected Prof.S.Minakshisundaram to teach, but unfortunately, he didn’t teach us any subject that year.
Prof.S.Minakshisundaram was responsible for the success of the Department of Mathematical Physics in a science exhibition conducted by A.U. He used to spend up to 12 in the night for nearly two months with all students to prepare the models. Our show was rated as one of the best in the science exhibition.
We used to think Prof.S.Minakshisundaram was a great mathematician and he spent sometime in U.S. with leading mathematicians at Princeton. Around that year , 3 persons, T.V.Avadhani, P.Sambasiva Rao, and B.Viswanatham, got their Doctorates in Differential equations under his direction. That was considered to be a great achievement in those days. It may be noted that eminent mathematicians from U.K.adjudicated all their research work. The credit went to Prof.S.Minakshisundaram and he was regarded as a jewel of Andhra University. In those days we saw in the library a textbook Typical Means by K.Chandrasekharan and S.Minakshisundaram. In fact a large part of this book was the work of S.Minakshisundaram at Princeton . We were wondering why he was shown as a junior author. May be , because it was a publication from TIFR. P.Sambasiva Rao later told me that the author’s names were listed in alphabetical order. Prof.S.Minakshisundaram had a long research career. He was very social with students, colleagues and professors from many universities. His most admired research student was M.Rajagopalan, although he didn’t get his doctorate under his direction.Prof.S.Minakshisundaram had a knack of forecasting the results. He could see ten steps ahead in a problem and so fellow mathematicians like VijayRaghavan, Vaidyanatha Swamy, Bhamba, B.R.Seth, P.L.Bhatnagar admired him. In B.Sc.(Hons) 2nd year ,Prof.S.Minakshisundaram took Dynamics. Hardly did he complete up to central orbits 3-rd chapter in S.Loney’s textbook), when he fell ill. We had no teacher for the rest of the year. During 3-rd year he taught us Complex Varialbles. We enjoyed hes teaching. Some of his brilliant ideas can’t be found in textbooks. As G.Polya said in his book on How to Solve It,we have to learn things from experts and not by study. In M.Sc. he taught us Hilbert Space . M.H.Stone was the prescribed book . He didn’t perhaps like it. We followed P.R.Halmos Finite Dimensional Vector Space and eventually another text book. I had the fortune of meeting this octogenarian at University of Santa Clara, where he is still Professor. It was Prof.S.Minakshisundaram who brought to us its connection to Dirac’s Quantum Mechanics, which was taught to us by S.Ramamurthy. Even S.Ramamurthy didn’t bring his connection in his lectures. This shows that although Prof.S.Minakshisundaram was a mathematician, he had good physical concepts. By virtue of his greatness, he had rivals such as T.Venkatarayudu who became 2-nd professor of the department after his return from U.S. In 1955 T.Venkatarayudu was a specialist in Group Theory and application to Physical Problems. Prof.S.Minakshisundaram wandted to create research activity in the Department of Mathematical Physics. So he asked P.Sambasiva Rao who just returned from U.K.with another Doctoral Degree in Supersonic flow and shock waves under M.J.Lighill, to take me as a candidate for research studies in Fluid mechanics. I could not derive much help from P.Sambasiva Rao, who was busy with his family affairs and house construction. However during that period I studied a lot in Fluid Mechanics, which helped me to supervise about 10 Research degrees in the long run of my career. Prof.S.Minakshisundaram conducted a seminar on Boundary value problems in Differential Equations, a work that led to the Doctoral thesis of D.R.K.Sangameshwara Rao. In fact I showed a lot of interest in the seminar and at one stage noting that I was not pursuing active research in Fluid mechanics at that time, he asked P.Sambasiva Rao to transfer me to him. But P.Samabasiva Rao wanted me to continue research with him and promisedthat he would help me, but he could not. Many a time, Prof.S.Minakshisundaram expressed that he has initiated me for research in a wrong hand. Luckily for me I had the good fortune of finding and unofficial guide. S.D.Nigam for my Doctorate Degree.