On September 10, 2020, C.R. Rao, Emeritus Holder of the Eberly Family Chair in Statistics, celebrated his 100th birthday. The statistics community honored his considerable contributions to the field with a virtual birthday celebration at the 2020 Joint Statistical Meetings in August, a short documentary (http://bit.ly/CRRaoALifeInStatistics), and an article in Significance, a magazine published by the Royal Statistical Society and American Statistical Association.
“C.R. Rao's research contributions are so foundational to statistics that terms like the Cramer-Rao Lower Bound and Rao Blackwellization are familiar to everyone who has taken an introductory course in mathematical statistics,” said Murali Haran, professor and head of the Department of Statistics. “His work shaped the directions for the field of statistics in the 20th century and continues to be relevant today. Having one of the giants in the field in the Department of Statistics at Penn State raised the profile of our department and attracted outstanding scholars and students to Penn State on a regular basis.”
Rao’s contributions to mathematics and statistical theory and applications have become part of the graduate and postgraduate curricula in statistics, econometrics, electrical engineering, and many other disciplines at most universities worldwide, and his work has had a profound influence on the theory and application of statistics in diverse fields. Rao's research in multivariate analysis, for example, is used in economic planning, weather prediction, medical diagnosis, tracking the movements of spy planes, and monitoring the movements of spacecraft, and his 1965 text Linear Statistical Inference and Its Applications is one of the most often cited books in science.
“Rao has made a lasting impact not only on the field of statistics and several other disciplines but also on his colleagues and students at Penn State,” said Tracy Langkilde, Verne M. Willaman Dean of the Eberly College of Science. “The Eberly Chair in Statistics played an important role in his recruitment to Penn State, and we are fortunate to have had the resources to attract such an eminent statistician.”
Rao served as a faculty member at Penn State from 1988 to 2001 and became an Emeritus Holder of the Eberly Family Chair in Statistics in 2009. He is the founding director of Penn State's Center for Multivariate Statistics. And every other year, the statistics department honors an outstanding statistician in his name with the C. R. Rao and Bhargavi Prize.
“When Professor C.R. Rao joined Penn State in 1988, he brought international recognition to the department, inviting the most prominent leaders in the profession as speakers and visitors, including every newly elected member of the National Academy of Sciences,” said James Rosenberger, professor emeritus of statistics. “His influence helped raise the rankings of our department from the 30s to the top 20 in 1995.”
Over the course of his career, Rao has published more than 475 scientific papers, authored or coauthored 16 books, and mentored more than 50 doctoral students. He has been honored with many prestigious awards, including the 2002 National Medal of Science, the highest science award in the United States; the 2010 India Science Award, the highest award given to a scientist in India; and the Royal Statistical Society's 2011 Guy Medal in Gold, the United Kingdom's highest award given to a statistician. He is a Fellow of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the U.K.’s Royal Society, and a member of several other scientific societies around the world.
“C.R. Rao is a great collaborator, colleague, and mentor,” said Distinguished Professor of Statistics Jogesh Babu, who played an integral role in bringing Rao to Penn State. “He is soft spoken and very gracious, and always seemed to sport a bit of a mischievous grin and amused demeanor. His presence enhanced the reputation of the department greatly.”
Babu continued, “I recall the time I served on the college’s promotion and tenure committee, when Professor Rao’s case was considered for immediate tenure. A reference letter had only one sentence, to the effect of, ‘Are you kidding, you want me to write a reference letter for such a giant in the field?’ He helped me by giving well-received presentations on model selection to astronomers during the first three years (2005–2007) of our Center for Astrostatistics’ annual Summer School in Statistics for Astronomers. During his time at Penn State, he was able to attract many national academy members to give named seminars in the Department of Statistics.”
Babu also reflected on the history of Rao’s move to Penn State: “It was in the late 1980s. I used to visit Professor Rao in Pittsburgh in the summers to collaborate with him. Professor P. R. Krishnaiah, one of his scientific collaborators, who brought Professor Rao to the University of Pittsburgh as a University Professor, ran the Center for Multivariate Analysis at University of Pittsburgh until his premature death in the summer of 1987. The loss of his close associate seemed to dampen Rao’s spirits. During one of my visits around that time, I sensed that Professor Rao could be attracted to Penn State. And just then Penn State’s College of Science announced the establishment of Eberly Chairs in each of its departments. I discussed with Thomas Hettmansperger, the head of the Department of Statistics at that time, and he was very excited with the idea of bringing Professor Rao to Penn State. Tom and I and Bob Mayer (then head of sponsored research in the college) made a couple of trips to Pittsburgh to talk to Professor Rao. The rest is history. I am glad that I played an important role in bringing Professor C. R. Rao to Penn State.”