◀ ▲ ▶History / 19th-century / Person: Mahalanobis, Prasanta Chandra
Person: Mahalanobis, Prasanta Chandra
Prasanta Mahalanobis was an Indian mathematiccian who made important contibutions to statistics and to its application in meteorology and anthropology.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- The poet Rabindranath Tagore was a significant influence on Mahalanobis when he was a young boy.
- Even at a very early age he came under the influence of Rabindranath Tagore who took a liking to young Mahalanobis, being particularly impressed by the combination in him of a love of literature with a flair for logical analysis.
- Mahalanobis attended the Brahmo Boys School in Calcutta, passing the matriculation examination in 1908, his final year at the school.
- In the summer of 1913 Mahalanobis went to England where his intention was to study for a B.Sc. at the University of London.
- In the friend's house he met a student who was studying at King's College and, hearing that Mahalanobis found the chapel so attractive, suggested he apply to study there.
- In the natural sciences tripos, Mahalanobis had specialised in physics and he set up a research project at the Cavendish Laboratory.
- Asked if he would take on a temporary teaching role in physics at the College to help out, Mahalanobis agreed but he was still intent on returning to Cambridge to undertake his research project once the temporary position ended.
- Now Mahalanobis's involvement in statistics came about, as many aspects of his life did, through a chance happening.
- This interest in statistics did not change the career path of Mahalanobis who was appointed as Professor of Physics at Presidency College in 1922.
- MathSciNet lists 144 papers in which the Mahalanobis distance plays a significant role and is mentioned in the title or review of the paper.
- As a result of seeing this paper, the Director General of Observatories asked Mahalanobis if he would be interested in examining some meteorology problems.
- These were the first of over 200 papers which Mahalanobis published covering a vast range of topics from agriculture to drinking tea among middle class Indian families in Calcutta.
- Perhaps the two most important contributions by Mahalanobis, other than his scientific papers, were setting up the Indian Statistical Institute and the founding of the journal Sankhya.
- It soon acquired the name of the Statistical Laboratory and was located in Mahalanobis's room in the Physics Department.
- The official setting up of the Indian Statistical Institute was on 17 December 1931 when Mahalanobis, together with the Professor of Economics and the Professor of Applied Mathematics at Presidency College met under the chairmanship of the industrialist Sir Rajendranath Mukherjee and passed a resolution formally setting up the Indian Statistical Institute.
- Basically through the 1920s and up to 1931 almost all statistical work done in India was by Mahalanobis.
- For example, in December 1932 Mahalanobis offered R C Bose a part-time post at the Indian Statistical Institute.
- Mahalanobis gave him a list of papers to read and he soon became a world-class statistician.
- Under Mahalanobis's leadership the Institute flourished.
- The other major achievement of Mahalanobis was the founding of the statistics journal Sankhya in 1933 as a publication of the Indian Statistical Institute.
- Mahalanobis received many honours for his remarkable contributions to the development of statistics and to life in India.
- The 'Mahalanobis Era' in statistics which started in the early twenties has ended.
Born 29 June 1893, Calcutta (now Kolkata), India. Died 28 June 1972, Calcutta (now Kolkata), India.
View full biography at MacTutor
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Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive