A Founder of Modern Statistics

illustration of Calyampudi Rao by Randy Glass

That Calyampudi R. Rao was honored with the 2023 International Prize in Statistics spoke to his status as a foundational figure in the field, with more than 60 years of research and discoveries to his credit. “They gave him the prize for work he did in 1945, when he was 25,” says Rao’s daughter, Tejaswini ’72 MS, ’75 PhD H&HD. “His early work helped develop the field of information geometry, which is now finding application in artificial intelligence tools.”

His 1945 paper gave the world the Cramér-Rao lower bound and the Rao-Blackwell theorem, and his career contributions had a profound influence on the theory and application of statistics in diverse fields, including economic planning, weather prediction, medical diagnosis, electrical engineering, and AI. Still, when asked what he considered his greatest accomplishment, Rao never changed his answer. “He always said, ‘The students I trained,’” Tejaswini says. “He trained 50 doctoral students, and he thought that was his biggest achievement.”

Rao grew up in India, where he worked at the Indian Statistical Institute in Calcutta until he retired at age 60, only to move to the U.S. and continue his research and teaching for three more decades, first at Ohio State and then the University of Pittsburgh before spending almost 22 years at Penn State. He retired a second time in 2001 but continued as Eberly Professor Emeritus of Statistics until 2010.

Rao was conferred 41 honorary doctorates and authored 16 books and 476 research papers, fueled by “an immense sense of curiosity” that was never satiated. “His last paper was published when he turned 100,” Tejaswini says.

Rao died Aug. 22, 2023, in Buffalo, N.Y. He was 102. Survivors include his daugher; his son, Veerendra; two grandchildren; and a great-grandson. —RR