P C Mahalanobis (1893-1972)

P C Mahalanobis was a distinguished Indian scientist and applied statistician. Mahalanobis is best remembered for the Mahalanobis distance, a statistical measure. 

The great scientist made pioneering studies in anthropometry in India. The Indian Statistical Institute was founded by him.

Life of Mahalanobis


Prashanta Chandra Mahalanobis belonged to a Bengali family who lived in Bikrampur, now in Bangladesh. Mahalanobis studied at Brahmo Boys School in Calcutta graduating in 1908. 

He then joined the Presidency College in Calcutta. He received a Bachelor of Science degree with honours in physics in 1912. Mahalanobis married Nirmalkumari in 1923. He died on 28 June 1972.

Career of Mahalanobis

PC Mahalanobis is best remembered for the Mahalanobis distance. The Mahalanobis distance is a measure of the distance between a point P and a distribution D. It is a multi-dimensional generalization of the idea of measuring how many standard deviations away P is from the mean of D.

Mahalanobis' most important contributions are related to large-scale sample surveys. He introduced the concept of pilot surveys and advocated the usefulness of sampling methods.

Mahalanobis formed the Indian Statistical Institute in 1932. In 1959, the institute was declared as an institute of national importance and a deemed university. The other major achievement of Mahalanobis was the founding of the statistics journal Sankhya in 1933 as a publication of the Indian Statistical Institute.

Mahalanobis was a member of the planning commission and contributed prominently to newly independent India's five-year plans. 

In the second five-year plan he emphasised industrialisation on the basis of a two-sector model. The Mahalanobis model was employed in the Second Five Year Plan which worked towards the rapid industrialisation of India.

Awards and honours of PC Mahalanobis

PC Mahalanobis received many awards for his contribution to science and services to the country. He received the Padma Vibhushan, one of the highest civilian awards, from the Government of India. 

He received Weldon Memorial Prize from the University of Oxford in 1944, Fellow of the Royal Society, London in 1945, Fellow of the Econometric Society, USA in 1951 and Honorary Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, UK in 1954 among others.

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