Calyampudi Radhakrishna (CR) Rao is an Indian-born mathematician and statistician who has worked most of his life in America. His statistical work has been applied in many fields. CR Rao, an Indian American professor, whose work of more than 75 years ago continues to exert a profound influence on science, has been awarded the prestigious 2023 International Prize in Statistics, which is equivalent to the Nobel Prize.
Rao, now 102, will receive the prize, which comes with an $80,000 award, this July at the biennial International Statistical Institute’s World Statistics Congress in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, the Alexandra, Virginia based organization announced. He is currently professor emeritus at Pennsylvania State University and Research Professor at the Buffalo.
In his remarkable 1945 paper published in the Bulletin of the Calcutta Mathematical Society, Rao demonstrated three fundamental results that paved the way for the modern field of statistics and provided statistical tools heavily used in science today, according to a media release.
The International Prize in Statistics is awarded every two years by collaboration among five leading international statistics organisations.
The prize recognises a major achievement by an individual or team in the statistics field, particularly an achievement of powerful and original ideas that have led to practical applications and breakthroughs in other disciplines.
The prize is modelled after the Nobel prizes, Abel Prize, Fields Medal and Turing Award. The first International Prize in Statistics was awarded in 2017 to David, R Cox for the development of the Cox proportional hazards model, which allows researchers to investigate patient survival rates in complex studies.
Bradley Efron received the award in 2019 for a statistical method known as the bootstrap, a clever computational method for assessing uncertainty in applied statistics. Nan Laird received the award in 2021 for the development of powerful methods that have made possible the analysis of complex longitudinal studies.
The first, now known as the Cramér-Rao lower bound, provides a means for knowing when a method for estimating a quantity is as good as any method can be. The second result, named the Rao-Blackwell Theorem (because it was discovered independently by eminent statistician David Blackwell), provides a means for transforming an estimate into a better—in fact, an optimal—estimate.
Together, these results form a foundation on which much of statistics is built. And the third result provided insights that pioneered a new interdisciplinary field that has flourished as “information geometry.”
Combined, these results help scientists more efficiently extract information from data. Information geometry has recently been used to aid the understanding and optimization of Higgs boson measurements at the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator.
It has also found applications in recent research on radars and antennas and contributed significantly to advancements in artificial intelligence, data science, signal processing, shape classification, and image segregation.
The Rao-Blackwell process has been applied to stereology, particle filtering, and computational econometrics, among others, while the Cramér-Rao lower bound is of great importance in such diverse fields as signal processing spectroscopy, radar systems, multiple image radiography, risk analysis, and quantum physics.
Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao's parents were C Daraiswamy Naidu (1879-1940), a police inspector, and A Laxmikanthamma. He was the eighth of his parents' ten children (born on 10 september1920), two of whom died as infants. We should explain that the name Rao is part of his given name - in fact all the male children in his family were named Rao. His other given name Radhakrishna comes from the god Krishna (who was the eighth of his parents children and, for that reason, the custom was to name the eighth child after Krishna).
Only the boys in the family were given school education, as was the tradition at the time, but this was rather disrupted by frequent moves that the family made as their father was transferred from one place to another.
Calyampudi Radhakrishna completed his first two years schooling in Gudur, his next two in Nuzvid, and then grades 6 and 7 in Nandigama, all towns in the state of Andhra Pradesh. During these years CR, as we will call Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao throughout this biography, saw little of his father who was totally absorbed in his work but his mother was a major influence.
In 1931 CR's father retired and the family settled down in Visakhapatnam, on the coast of Andhra Pradesh. The family chose this city because of the excellent educational facilities that were available there for their children. CR studied there for ten years, first at high school, then mathematics, physics, and chemistry at the intermediate Mrs A V N College before attending Andhra University.
At the intermediate college he won the Chandrasekhar Iyer Scholarship in each of his two years. The School Magazine for 1935 published his picture with the caption. His schooling was completed in Gudur, Nuzvid, Nandigama, and Visakhapatnam, all in Andhra Pradesh. He received an MSc in mathematics from Andhra University and an MA in statistics from Calcutta University in 1943.
He obtained a PhD degree at King’s College at Cambridge University. He added a DSc degree, also from Cambridge, in 1965.
Rao first worked at the Indian Statistical Institute and the Anthropological Museum in Cambridge. He married Smt Bhargavi, a girl he had known from childhood; they had a daughter Tejaswini and a son Veerendra.
Later he held several important positions, as the Director of the Indian Statistical Institute, Jawaharlal Nehru Professor and National Professor in India, University Professor at the University of Pittsburgh and Eberly Professor and Chair of Statistics and Director of the Center for Multivariate Analysis at Pennsylvania State Universit.
Rao has received 38 honorary doctoral degrees from universities in 19 countries around the world and numerous awards and medals for his contributions to statistics and science. He is a member of eight National Academies in India, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Italy.Rao was awarded the United States National Medal of Science, America’s highest award for lifetime achievement in fields of scientific research, in June 2002. He was given the India Science Award in 2010, the highest honour conferred by the government of India in a scientific domain.
In 2013, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Miodrag Lovric (Editor) and Sholmo Sawilowsky, for their contribution to the International Encyclopedia of Statistical Science. He was most recently honored with his 38th honorary doctorate by the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, on 26 July 2014 for “his contributions to the foundations of modern statistics.”
He was the President of the International statistical Institute, Institute of Mathematical Statistics (USA), and the International Biometric Society. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame of India’s National Institution for Quality and Reliability (Chennai Branch) for his contribution to industrial statistics and the promotion of quality control programs in industries. He was awarded the title of Padma Bhushan by the Indian Government (1968) and Padma Vibhushan in 2001.
"In awarding this prize, we celebrate the monumental work by C R Rao that not only revolutionized statistical thinking in its time but also continues to exert enormous influence on human understanding of science across a wide spectrum of disciplines," said Guy Nason, chair of the International Prize in Statistics Foundation.