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‘One of the World’s Greatest Statisticians’: Eminent Indian American Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao Dies at 102

‘One of the World’s Greatest Statisticians’: Eminent Indian American Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao Dies at 102

  • A pioneer in the field, he laid the foundation for modern statistics, and was recently awarded the International Prize in Statistics, the field’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

Eminent Indian American statistician Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao died earlier in the week under Hospice care at his daughter’s home in Amherst, New York. He was 102 and would have turned 103 next month. Rao worked as a research professor at the University of Buffalo’s Department of Biostatistics in the School of Public Health and Health Professions. He continued to do research projects until he was nearly 100. 

His daughter Teja Rao told the Buffalo News that her father was surrounded by family, including her and her brother Veera. “He exited with such grace, the same way he lived his life,” she said.

University of Buffalo President Satish K. Tripathi said in a university press release that It was a “tremendous honor “to count Rao as a member of UB’s faculty, and “his tenure at our university served as the capstone to an extraordinary career spanning, remarkably, 80 years.” He described him as “not only a groundbreaking mathematical statistician who revolutionized his field, but also that rare individual possessed of both genius intellect and profound humility.” He noted that “while our scholarly community mourns Dr. Rao’s loss, we are consoled to know that his legacy will live on in the researchers at UB and around the world — including the scores he mentored — who are using his innovative theorems and visionary contributions to advance the field to which he dedicated his professional life.”

Gregory Wilding, chair of University of Buffalo’s Department of Biostatistics, was quoted in Niagara Gazette as saying: “To know the field of statistics is to know the contributions of C.R. Rao. Not only is he one of the most significant figures in statistical theory, but it may be argued that his pioneering work in areas such as statistical inference, linear models and multivariate analyses resulted in substantial impact across all of science.” 

Considered one of the world’s greatest statisticians, Rao was a University of Buffalo faculty member since 2010, and a pioneer in the field who laid the foundation for modern statistics. He was recently awarded the International Prize in Statistics, the field’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize. In announcing Rao’s receipt of the International Prize in Statistics, the International Prize in Statistics Foundation noted that Rao’s “work more than 75 years ago continues to exert a profound influence on science,” adding that three fundamental results Rao published in 1945 “paved the way for the modern field of statistics and provided statistical tools heavily used in science today.

The first result, known as the Cramer-Rao lower bound, “provides a means for knowing when a method for estimating a quantity is as good as any method can be,” the announcement notes. The second result, named the Rao-Blackwell Theorem, provides a means for transforming an estimate into an optimal one. Taken together, the two methods form the foundation on which much of statistics is built.

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The insights from Rao’s third result pioneered a new interdisciplinary field called “information geometry,” which has recently been used in Higgs Boson measurements at the Large Hadron Collider, as well as in recent research on radars and antennas, along with contributing significantly to advancements in artificial intelligence.

He spent 40 years of his professional career at the Indian Statistical Institute, where he made those three discoveries — by the age of 25 — “that set the groundwork for statistics becoming a field of study separate from mathematics,” according to a university press release. In 1979, he took mandatory retirement from ISI and moved to the United States, where he held teaching positions at the University of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania State University. He came to UB in 2010 as a research professor in the Department of Biostatistics, School of Public Health and Health Professions.Rao was revered in his native country and among those he collaborated with and mentored in India and the United States.

In 2002, Rao established the C.R. Rao Advanced Institute of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science in Hyderabad, India. He authored 476 research papers, and has written 15 books, including leading textbooks in the field

He earned an MA in mathematics from Andhra University, an MA in statistics from Calcutta University and a Ph.D from Cambridge University (1948). In 1965, Cambridge awarded him the higher doctoral degree, ScD. King’s College later gave him the rare honor of life fellow. He also held 39 honorary doctorates from universities, including University of Buffalo, in 19 countries on six continents.

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