For mathematician Manjul Bhargava, 2012 marks the summation of his efforts of several years. Earlier this year, the professor of mathematics at Princeton University, US, solved the elliptic curve of the algebraic number theory, which he regards as “highly sought after”. Bhargava, a 38-year-old American of Indian origin who has also won this year’s Infosys Prize for Mathematical Sciences, plans to devote the next year towards further generalization of the theory and focus on Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer Conjecture, which is one of the seven Millennium Prize Problems in mathematics announced by the Clay Mathematics Institute in 2000. The conjecture deals with elliptic curves and rational numbers.
Bhargava is also looking forward to exploring connections to physics, which he found while working on his mathematics problems. Even though the elliptic curves theorems that he has contributed to find great use in cryptography and in making data travel more secure over the Internet, Bhargava believes that research should not be tied up to its end application as this restricts the creativity of scientists. “The maths that has been the most applied in the real world has been the maths which mathematicians found while looking for beauty and not for applications,” he says. “You get to the best places when you are not trying to go anywhere.”
This is the reason, says Bhargava, there has to be a focus on funding basic mathematics along with applied math. As someone who regards Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan as an inspiration, Bhargava is also advising the Indian government to open institutes to foster a culture of basic research in the country. He feels while the government has started promoting research in the country, there is a need for a lot of infrastructure if India has to have institutes like the ones in the US.
An accomplished tabla player, Bhargava has trained under tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, and finds that math and tabla complement each other, since both deal with patterns. Bhargava’s mother, a vocalist and tabla player, initiated him into the world of music, while his grandparents in India introduced him to Sanskrit and the fact that a lot of fundamental math concepts were discovered by Indian poets and linguists who were not mathematicians. “Unfortunately, not many people in India know about it and students are discouraged from going into pure mathematics as career options (in this field) are considered to be not very lucrative,” he says. However, the change in attitude of the government and corporations in India towards research holds some promise of a change, he says.