G.H. Hardy was a great British mathematician. He was the person who made the mathematics world look up to England for his massive contributions in ‘Pure mathematics’. Hardy brought sternness in mathematics which was uncommon in British mathematicians till he came by. He formulated mathematical essays, number theories and analysed mathematics in a fresh and new way, changing the way the world looked at British mathematicians (known as dwellers in applied mathematics before Hardy’s time). Hardy is widely known for his collaborative efforts (which is held as historical) with J. E. Littlewood in making aesthetic developments in mathematical analysis and analytic number theory. Hardy broke all British traditions of dwelling in ‘Applied mathematics’ and became a prominent figure in pure mathematics. He brought great many changes in common man’s understanding of mathematics by contributing several essays on mathematics. Hardy is also known for being the mentor of the great Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan.
G H Hardy Childhood and Youth
Godfrey Harold Hardy was born on 7 February 1877 in Cranleigh, Surrey, England to teacher parents. Hardy’s birth wrote his fate as both his parents were greatly inclined towards mathematics.
At a very young age Hardy found himself being naturally pulled by mathematics. He was surely a genius to be able to write numbers up to millions when he was just 2 years old. He went to church where he stunned everyone by factorizing the numbers of the hymns.
Hardy finished his schooling from Cranleigh School which was an independent English boarding school in Cranleigh, Surrey. He earned his scholarship to pursue his mathematical work in Winchester College. In 1896 Hardy enrolled himself in Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took just two years to prepare himself for the Mathematics Tripos examination standing fourth in it. In his later years Hardy had worked hard to get rid of the Tripos procedure as he started feeling the overbearing nature of the system than a fruitful means of achieving an end in the examination process.
During his university days, Hardy became a member of the Cambridge Apostles which was a secret society for the elite and intellectual students of the university.
Hardy was greatly influenced (as stated by him) by French mathematician Camille Jordan whose ‘Cours d'analyse de l'École Polytechnique’ had helped Hardy become well acquainted with prevalent European mathematical trends of his time. In 1900 he succeeded in passing part II of the tripos which also made him win a fellowship.
In 1903 Hardy received his M.A. which was arguably the topmost academic degree at English universities of the time. In 1906, he was appointed lecturer and he taught for six hours per week leaving him with enough time for research.
In 1919 Hardy left Cambridge to join Oxford after being appointed as the Savilian Chair of Geometry. Again in 1931 Hardy found his way back to Cambridge where he remained Sadleirian Professor till 1942.
Career and Work
Hardy is known for being the most important figure in English mathematics as he was the one who brought light into pure mathematics in England. Before him English mathematicians were known for their contributions in applied mathematics. He brought mathematical rigour which was known to be brought about and represented only by French, Swiss and German. English mathematical tradition was deeply rooted in applied mathematics due to the great influences of Isaac Newton. Hardy was far flung in his French ‘cours d'analyse’ methods. His conceptions were deep around pure mathematics. Hardy was against all English mathematical traditions starting from Mathematical Tripos to hydrodynamics prevalent in Cambridge mathematics.
In the year 1911, Hardy started off an important mathematical journey by collaborating with fellow English mathematician, John Edensor Littlewood in coming up with and propounding mathematical analysis and analytic number theory. Hardy and John’s extensive researches and laborious works resulted in improvement and quantitative progress on the ‘Waring problem’ which later became known as a part of ‘Hardy-Littlewood circle method’.
While working and formulating innovations on ‘prime number theory’ Hardy and Littlewood came up with brilliant proofs and conditional results. This went on to develop number theory as a system of conjectures. Some of the finest examples of the collaborative results are first and second Hardy–Littlewood conjectures. The Hardy-Littlewood collaboration is regarded as one of the most brilliant, successful and famous collaborative ventures in the history of mathematics.
Hardy also collaborated with Wilhelm Weinberg to come up with the Hardy–Weinberg principle, a basic principle of population genetics. Hardy’s involvement in this field made him discover a branch of applied mathematics. Hardy’s collection of works and papers were published by Oxford University Press in 7 notable volumes.
Ideas, Beliefs and Contributions
Hardy detested war and use of mathematics in military operations and war strategies. This was the sole reason for Hardy’s preference for pure mathematics without any traditional applications of it in social devastations.
In 1914 Hardy collaborated with Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. Hardy became Ramanujan’s mentor and they came up with the Hardy-Ramanujan asymptotic formula which has been greatly used in Physics required for finding quantum partition functions of atomic nuclei and also to derive thermodynamic functions of non-interacting Bose-Einstein systems. In spite of Hardy’s unwillingness to move away from pure mathematics, many of his works and derivations have been applied greatly in other branches of science. Hardy was once asked about his greatest contribution in mathematics to which he had said that Ramanujan was his discovery and Hardy also referred to his collaboration with Ramanujan as “the one romantic incident in my life”.
Hardy remained socially associated with the Bloomsbury group and the Cambridge Apostles which had members like G. E. Moore, Bertrand Russell and J. M. Keynes who were Hardy’s friends. Hardy had great love for cricket which made him become friends with English physicist and novelist C.P. Snow.
Hardy became involved in politics often in his life. He was never an activist but took part in the Union of Democratic Control during World War I and got strongly involved in ‘For Intellectual Liberty’ in the late 1930s.
Hardy remained a bachelor all his life having some respite from a few platonic relationships with young men sharing common sensibilities like him. He was a non-believer. Hardy was believed to be a very shy person not liking the idea of meeting new people. It was often noted that he did not even like to see his very own image on the mirror and so during his stay in hotels he often used to cover the mirrors with towels.
Hardy was unsocial, shy, cold and eccentric as a person all through his life. Although he received awards, prizes and several honours in his school life, he hated to receive them in front of the entire school.
During his obituary, Hardy’s former students had noted the kind hearted nature of Hardy. Hardy was said to be a man who could not stand the failure of his pupil in their researches.
Hardy died on 1 December 1947. During his last days, Hardy’s sister took care of him.