On Saturday, February 25, 2017, four intrepid biological engineers (Cathy, Katherine, Tara, and I) embarked on a daring journey into the world of “making” by signing up for MakeMIT, even though they had no experience whatsoever with anything at all.

MakeMIT is a hardware hackathon on MIT’s campus that brings over 250 students together to hack, make, and create to their hearts’ content for 16 straight hours. Hosted in the student center, the free event supplies all the materials and machinery that a hacker might need to prototype and develop their ideas: Raspberry Pi’s, Oculus Rifts, laser cutters, 3D printers, bandsaws, plywood, 1000 yards of fishing line, and much, much more. Corporate sponsors are also there to provide a few proprietary products for use (i.e. Nvidia Jetsons or Markforged 3D printers), as well as opportunities for consultations and prizes for different categories at the end of the night.

Hacking officially starts at 8:45AM and doesn’t end until 12:30AM the next day. Since the event is held on campus, you are free to come and go as you please, but the limited amount of time, the contagious excitement, and the mountains of free food motivate you to put your head down and stick it out for the 16-hour making marathon.

Ramanujan was the first Indian professor to become a Fellow at Cambridge University. Hardy said: “He combined a power of generalization, a feeling for form, and a capacity for rapid modification of his hypotheses, that were often really startling, and made him, in his own peculiar field, without a rival in his day. The limitations of his knowledge were as startling as its profundity. Here was a man who could work out modular equations and theorems… to orders unheard of, whose mastery of continued fractions was… beyond that of any mathematician in the world, who had found for himself the functional equation of the zeta function and the dominant terms of many of the most famous problems in the analytic theory of numbers; and yet he had never heard of a doubly periodic function or of Cauchy’s theorem, and had indeed but the vaguest idea of what a function of a complex variable was…”

As for his place in the world of Mathematics, Paul Erdős of Israel’s Technion passed on Hardy’s personal ratings of mathematicians. Suppose that we rate mathematicians on the basis of pure talent on a scale from 0 to 100, Hardy gave himself a score of 25, J.E. Littlewood 30, David Hilbert 80 and Ramanujan 100.

While the beauty of the story has long impacted all students of mathematics, the nature of Ramanujan’s mathematical genius, and how he himself perceived it, tends to be less explored. Hardy called it some kind of deep ‘intuition’, but Ramanujan openly stated that he received the mathematical inspiration and sometimes whole formulas, through contacting the Hindu Goddess Namagiri while dreaming. Ramanujan was an observant Hindu, adept at dream interpretation and astrology. Growing up, he learned to worship Namagiri, the Hindu Goddess of creativity. He often understood mathematics and spirituality as one. He felt, for example, that zero represented Absolute Reality, and that infinity represented the many manifestations of that Reality.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently named Ramanujan as one of his favourite scientists. He points out that all that genius – an intelligence that transformed mathematics and physics – could have been lost, had Hardy not responded in those early pre-war years. What would have happened if Ramanujan had access to the internet? He asks. How many more Ramanujans are out there?