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Asymptotics beyond all orders: the devil's invention?

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“Divergent series are the invention of the devil, and it is shameful to base on them any demonstration whatsoever.” – N. H. Abel.

The lecture will introduce the concept of an asymptotic series, showing how useful divergent series can be, despite Abel’s reservations. We will then discuss Stokes’ phenomenon, whereby the coefficients in the series appear to change discontinuously. We will show how understanding Stokes’ phenomenon is the key which allows us to determine the qualitative and quantitative behaviour of the solution in many practical problems. Examples will be drawn from the areas of surface waves on fluids, crystal growth, dislocation dynamics, and Hele-Shaw flow.

This talk is part of the Rouse Ball Lectures series.

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