Friday, April 26, 2019

Sharing some research in number theory

I have been exploring the life of Srinivasa Ramanujan, the brilliant Indian mathematician whose efforts in number theory from about a century ago are still captivating mathematicians today.  Reading about him in The Man Who Knew Infinity, Robert Kanigel's detailed biography, has prompted me to revisit the little bit of research in algebraic number theory that I undertook at the University of Glasgow. 

Under the direction of Professor Robert (“Bob”) Odoni, I submitted a thesis, Norms of Ideals in Direct Sums of Number Fields and Applications to the Circulants Problem of Olga Taussky-Todd, in April 1992.  Its originality was due to my supervisor; I barely understood the material and for various reasons felt that I couldn't continue towards a doctorate, but I wrote up what I had for a Master's and in September I duly underwent the viva with the external examiner, Dr. Stephen Wilson from Durham University.   Years later, I feel that I should in some way honour the memory of Prof. Odoni  by making the thesis available as a PDF file on Academia.

Taussky-Todd, who originally posed the problem about circulant matrices, was a versatile mathematician who explored many branches; in a long and productive life her output was considerable.  She initially studied chemistry because that her father was director of a vinegar factory, but then she switched to mathematics.  There is a parallel with Prof. Odoni, whose initial undergraduate studies were in chemistry, but he was not satisfied with the kinds of questions the subject addressed and so he turned to mathematics and never looked back.  I'm pleased to know that his contributions have been largely preserved in various papers, collated in a ResearchGate profile.

My thesis includes half a dozen references to Prof. Odoni's work (I have PDF versions that I'm happy to share).  He encouraged collaboration in research in many ways; when speaking of publications, I remember him praising in particular the Institute of Mathematics of the Polish Academy of Sciences, which is reflected in several of the listed publications.  All the papers he submitted there have been digitised and are being shared freely, reflecting this kind of openness. 

On a technical note, I prepared the thesis using (plain) TeX on an Atari ST, using GNOME   as a text editor.  I stored the files on a PC-compatible floppy and eventually transferred them off this obsolescent storage medium.   The sources I found a few weeks ago were from the time of the original submission, so they did not include any corrections.  Fortunately I still had these in the form of handwritten notes, which I could duly incorporate into the TeX sources.  And, wonderfully, on installing TeX years later I could still compile them to generate a DVI file and thence the PDF!  The final task was to modify the PDF to draw some straight lines to complete a couple of diagrams, which I achieved with PDFill.

As to why I'm reading about life of Ramanujan, I'm currently investigating the role of intuition in maths and computing for a little book I'm writing.