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Oleg Marichev

After 100 Years, Ramanujan Gap Filled

May 1, 2013 —
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A century ago, Srinivasa Ramanujan and G. H. Hardy started a famous correspondence about mathematics so amazing that Hardy described it as “scarcely possible to believe.” On May 1, 1913, Ramanujan was given a permanent position at the University of Cambridge. Five years and a day later, he became a Fellow of the Royal Society, then the most prestigious scientific group in the world. In 1919 Ramanujan was deathly ill while on a long ride back to India, from February 27 to March 13 on the steamship Nagoya. All he had was a pen and pad of paper (no Mathematica at that time), and he wanted to write down his equations before he died. He claimed to have solutions for a particular function, but only had time to write down a few before moving on to other areas of mathematics. He wrote the following incomplete equation with 14 others, only 3 of them solved.

One of Ramanujan's unsolved equations

Within months, he passed away, probably from hepatic amoebiasis. His final notebook was sent by the University of Madras to G. H. Hardy, who in turn gave it to mathematician G. N. Watson. When Watson died in 1965, the college chancellor found the notebook in his office while looking through papers scheduled to be incinerated. George Andrews rediscovered the notebook in 1976, and it was finally published in 1987. Bruce Berndt and Andrews wrote about Ramanujan’s Lost Notebook in a series of books (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). Berndt said, “The discovery of this ‘Lost Notebook’ caused roughly as much stir in the mathematical world as the discovery of Beethoven’s tenth symphony would cause in the musical world.”

In his book analyzing Ramanujan’s results, Berndt notes the existence of a solution for Solution noted by Berndt, but follows with, “We do not record the value here, because it is not particularly elegant.” As we will show below, a solution exists as elegant as other values found by Ramanujan himself.

Elegant solution found

What does the equation mean? We start by comparing arithmetic sequences to geometric sequences.

Arithmetic: 1 + 2 + 3 + … + n.

Geometric: a1 + a2 + a3 + … + an.

For each type, we can predict behaviors with such things as partial sum formulas. Another form of arithmetic progression, in the realm of continued fractions, is the following:

Continued fraction example

where symbol Equation for the Mathematica function ContinuedFractionK corresponds to the Mathematica function ContinuedFractionK.

The geometric version of continued fractions is known as the Rogers–Ramanujan function R. There is a related Rogers–Ramanujan function S (after Leonard James Rogers, who published papers with Ramanujan in 1919). In the lost notebook, F(q) represents S(q).

R(q) is a continued fraction of the form:

Form that R(q) is the continued fraction of

and similarly for S(q). (The presence of the prefactor Fifth root of q makes various formulas nicer.) More formal definitions are as follows:

More formal definition of R(q)

More formal definition of S(q)

These functions are related by Equation showing the relation of S(q) and R(q). Many published works mention S(q) = –R(-q), but that’s incorrect due to branch cuts. We can also define R and S in a way that can be evaluated more quickly through q-Pochhammer symbols.

Definition of R using q-Pochhammer symbols

Definition of S using q-Pochhammer symbols

Here are pictures of the behavior of the R function on the unit disk in the complex plane. Values returned can be complex, so these pictures show the imaginary, real, argument, and absolute values (Im, Re, Arg, and Abs) of the function R(q). The unit circle itself is the natural boundary of analyticity and has a dense set of singularities of the function R(q). As one can see, the Roger–Ramanujan functions are beautiful, not just due to their mathematical properties, but also visually.

Pictures of the behavior of the R function on the unit disk in the complex plane

The functions R and S are two of the few named functions devoted to continued fractions. Recently, we’ve been collecting theorems and formulas for R and S, including the uncompleted ones in this piece of Ramanujan’s original “lost” notebook. That line at the end is equivalent to Equation from Ramanujan's original lost notebook.

Piece of Ramanujan's original "lost" notebook

Many of these have been found since Ramanujan wrote them down. All of these are readily solved with Mathematica. We list the values together with the first known solvers, with solutions by Oleg Marichev being first realized by Mathematica.

Theorems and formulas for R and S

Bruce Berndt noted, “The value of Equation can be determined by using the value of Equation along with a famous modular equation connecting R(q5) with R(q). We do not record the value here, because it is not particularly elegant.”

With Simplify, RootReduce, and many other Mathematica functions, large equations can be boiled down to their most elegant form. Ramanujan used chalk and his mind to simplify most of his results—the long results he erased from his slate, but the elegant results he wrote down. It seems likely to us that Ramanujan actually did know the elegant solution, or at least a method to find it, he just didn’t have the time to write it down. Here’s a method we used. First, calculate a numerical value for the point of interest. Second, conjecture a closed algebraic form for this number. Third, express the algebraic number as nested radicals. Finally, check the conjectured form with many digits of accuracy.

Starting to calculate a numerical value for the point of interest

Calculating a numerical value for the point of interest


algebraicConjecture = RootApproximant[numValue, 24]

Closed algebraic form for the number

ToRadicals[algebraicConjecture ]

Algebraic number as nested radicals

Then we check that the numerical value of the conjectured form is the same as the value of the function. The values agree to at least 10000 places.

Checking the numerical value of the conjectured form is the same as the value of the function

0. x 10^-10049

Since both of these are algebraic numbers with elegant representations, this is a rather convincing check. And the method can easily be generalized to find many more, so far unknown, values for S(q), and similarly for R(q).

An actual proof can be accomplished using modular equations. This is the modular equation of order 5 for S:

Using modular equations for actual proof

Modular equation of order 5 for S

We use the previously known value for Equation for S(q5) and solve for S(q) to obtain a value for Equation.

Beginning to simplify the equation

Result for S(q)


Simplified version of the equation

Clearing denominators, we obtain the above form of the result.

Clearing denominators

Final result

Ramanujan’s equations are related to work we’ve done recently to add a lot of continued fraction knowledge to Wolfram|Alpha. In a future blog we will expand on the new capabilities, such as the input continued fraction K (1, n, {n, 1, inf}).

We also put together a list of hundreds of exact values in the “Ramanujan R and S” interactive Demonstration.

Ramanujan R and S Demonstration

“Not particularly elegant”—never a good thing to say about Ramanujan. We’re glad we were able to show that Ramanujan had something elegant in mind.

Download this post as a Computable Document Format (CDF) file.


It is shame that am from the same state where he was born(tamilnadu, India) and none of our embrace what a mathematical genius he was, only a very few people know his work . not even our school books cared about it 🙁

Posted by Karthick May 1, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    That’s sadly and unfortunately true 🙁 . I wish his works are respectfully recognized here in India too and not just in the mathematics community. What a genius he was..

    Posted by Anamika January 3, 2014 at 12:03 am

Wolfram’s computation technology beautifully unravels the profound relationship between Math and arts. It’s high time for Mathematicians and Artists to appreciate each other’s world and understand the underlying ‘oneness’ between the two. Thank you!

Posted by Ankur Gupta May 11, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Maths is always beautiful every fuction has its own sexy curve. what one need to see it is a mathematically aesthete mind. Well I know 1 thing whenever Ramanujan legacy will be solved universe will not be a mystery. God knows if we can use it for teleporting or time travelling. theory of relativity may come out of papers and many more… I wish to see it in ma life.

Posted by Akash Sen October 8, 2013 at 11:39 am

Ramanujan is not human, he is a beast.

Posted by Victor Kamat October 10, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    in fact u r a beast

    Posted by chodon kumar December 23, 2013 at 11:29 am