C. R. Rao is one of India’s premier intellectual gems. He’s a winner of the prestigious Padma Bhushan (1968) and Padma Vibhushan (2001).
Born in Madras (British India) in 1920, Rao was the eight child out of ten. From early age of 11, Rao could solve complicated arithmetical problems without a pen/paper. By his own accounts, Rao dedicated his early interests in mathematics to his father, who spotted Rao’s special talents and educated him on the likes of Ramanujan and CV Raman, both of whom were giants in the mathematical and scientific worlds.
Rao has two MA degrees, one in mathematics and the other in statistics, both from universities in India. He joined the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) in 1943 as a research scholar. Whilst working on his first project, he generated new technical terms inspired by Einstein that received enormous attention from the mathematics and quantum physics communities. Cambridge University took note of Rao’s developments and invited him as a paid scholar. Rao’s works and new methods were eventually published in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society and Biometrika during the 1940s.
Rao worked at ISI for 40 years. At ISI, he was instrumental in developing research and training programs that elevated India’s status in the statistical-studies community and earned ISI the name of Indian School of Statistics. Rao understood the relevance and importance of statistics in problem solving. He hence served as chairman of a UN committee that examined the demand for statistically-equipped personnel in Asian countries. On the basis of his recommendation that followed, the Statistical Institute of Asia and Pacific (The Asian Statistical Institute, then) was established in Tokyo, with an aim of training statisticians for governmental and industrial roles.
Rao also applied this same idea in India at various levels. Working with P. C. Mahalanobis, he set up statistical bureaus in different states and developed a network of agencies for collection of data. This created the foundations for one of the best national statistical systems in the world. Today, Indian Econometric society, founded by Rao, is proactively involved in promoting quantitative students in economics for planning and other purposes.
Rao then moved to the United States after taking mandatory retirement at 60, to continue his academic career at the University of Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania State University. At Penn State, he served as the Director of the Center for Multivariate Analysis (CMA), and guided research work for several PhD. students.
Six decades of hard work and innovation in statistics has propelled Rao to become one of the most celebrated statisticians in the world. His works, relating to the introduction of concepts like Cramer-Rao inequality, Rao-Blackwellization, Rao’s Score Test, Fisher-Rao and Rao Theorems on second order efficiency of an estimator, Rao metric and distance, Analysis of Dispersion (MANOVA) and Canonical Variate analysis and G-inverse of matrices, can be found even today in all standard statistics books. (In fact, Cramer-Rao Bound and Rao-Blackwellization are the most frequently quoted key words in statistical and engineering literature.) Many of these concepts have shaped modern technologies.
Rao’s lists of achievements and contributions don’t end here. When asked what particular achievement he is personally most proud of, Rao replied, “it is the outstanding contributions my students are making to statistical theory and practice.” Many of his students have gone on to become leading practitioners in government and private industry. And this is where the true essence of Rao lies – in teaching. Nearly 97 years young, he continues to teach and contribute to the statistical world.
I’ll leave you with a quote by former India President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, “When I think of modern statistics, Dr. C. R. Rao features on the top of the list. He once said that statistics is the technology of the finding the invisible and measure the immeasurable.”
Nielsen, Frank. “Interview with Professor Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao.” Amstat News, 1 Dec. 2016, magazine.amstat.org/blog/2016/12/01/raointerview/.
Rao, B.L.S. Praksa. “C. R. Rao: A Life in Statistics.” LIVING LEGENDS IN INDIAN SCIENCE, vol. 107, no. 5, 10 Sept. 2014, pp. 895–901., www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/107/05/0895.pdf.
“About C.R.Rao.” CR Rao Advanced Institute of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, www.crraoaimscs.org/about-c-r-rao/.