Ramanujan’s Last Formula

When I gave a talk about Ramanujan’s easiest formula at the Whittier College math club run by my former student Brandon Coya, one of the students there asked a great question: are there any unproved formulas of Ramanujan left?

So I asked around on MathOverflow, and this is the result:

George Andrews and Bruce Berndt have written five books about Ramanujan’s lost notebook, which was actually not a notebook but a pile of notes Andrews found in 1976 in a box at the Wren Library at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 2019 Berndt wrote about the last unproved identity in the lost notebook:

• Bruce C. Berndt, Junxian Li and Alexandru Zaharescu, The final problem: an identity from Ramanujan’s lost notebook, Journal of the London Mathematical Society 100 (2) (2019), 568–591.

Following Timothy Chow’s advice, I consulted Berndt and asked him if there were any remaining formulas of Ramanujan that have neither been proved nor disproved. He said no:

To the best of my knowledge, there are no claims or conjectures remaining. There are some statements to which we have not been able to attach meaning.

I checked to make sure that this applies to all of Ramanujan’s output, not just the lost notebook, and he said yes.

It’s sort of sad. But there’s a big difference between proving an identity and extracting all the wisdom contained in that identity! A lot of Ramanujan’s formulas have combinatorial interpretations, while others are connected to complex analysis—e.g. mock theta functions—so I’m sure there’s a lot of good work left to do, inspired by Ramanujan’s identities. There is also a continuing industry of discovering Ramanujan-like identities.

For more fun reading, try this:

• Robert P. Schneider, Uncovering Ramanujan’s “lost” notebook: an oral history.

Here’s an identity from Ramanujan’s lost notebooks:

2 Responses to Ramanujan’s Last Formula

  1. Carlos Suberviola Oroz says:

    The link to arXiv in the formula’s picture has an extra parenthesis at the end.

You can use Markdown or HTML in your comments. You can also use LaTeX, like this: $latex E = m c^2 $. The word 'latex' comes right after the first dollar sign, with a space after it.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.