Pride of India: Statistician CR Rao’s influence is widespread – The Higgs Boson, shape of the heart, archaeological digs & more
Calyampudi Radhakrishna Raowas born on September 10, 1920 into a Telugu-speaking family in the erstwhile Madras Presidency.
- Two years before India got its independence, he published a paper with three results that aided scientific research for decades after.
- From data science to
Higgs Boson– many large scientific experiments use his work.
AdvertisementWhere is statistics used? The answer to this broad question lies in the life and works of Dr CR Rao, who will soon be presented with the International Prize in Statistics, which is the Nobel Prize of the statistics field.
The 102-year-old Indian-American scientist’s work in statistics now propels the field of science — right from data analytics to analysing data from Large Hadron Collider, the world’s most powerful accelerator that found the elusive God particle or the Higgs Boson a decade ago.
In fact when a cardiologist had a problem constructing the shape of the human left ventricle from a pair of X-ray projection images taken from two perpendicular camera sets — it led to his extensive work on shape analysis.
When he was at Cambridge University, he was presented with the Jebel Moya problem. Skeletons from an ancient grave in Africa were brought back to the university and Rao analysed their measurements to determine their lives and relationship with neighbours. That’s when he introduced the concept of quadratic entropy, a general measure of diversity or non-homogeneity in a population.
For decades, his papers and works have helped scientists estimate results of experiments starting right from basic sciences like physics, chemistry and biology to artificial intelligence (AI), radar systems and many more that are to come.
Early life of the man who became a legend
Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao was born on September 10, 1920 into a Telugu-speaking family in Huvvina Hadagalli. The town then belonged to the erstwhile Madras province, and is now in Karnataka. His father was a police inspector and his mother a homemaker.
After completing his high school education in Visakhapatnam, he obtained his Master’s Degree in Mathematics from Andhra University in 1940. Later, he joined a master’s programme at the Calcutta University in statistics which was newly instituted. Needless to say, he received the highest rank possible and a gold medal too.
Two years before India got its independence, he published a paper where he demonstrated three fundamental results — Cramer-Rao lower bound, the Rao-Blackwell Theorem; and introduced differential geometric methods in statistical estimation. His third result formed the basis for a new interdisciplinary field - ‘information geometry’.
He went to Cambridge for a project and came back to work at the Indian Statistical Institute in the late 1940s. At the institute, he rose to the ranks of a director and quit in 1976. In 1978, he moved to the US as a university professor after retiring, and continues to the professor emeritus of statistics at Penn State.
So, to answer the question posed at the start of this piece – thanks in large part to the efforts of Rao, statistics is used in everything from computer science, quantum physics, linguistics and sociology to economics.
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