From Ramanujan to renormalization: the art of doing away with divergences and arriving at physical results

Wolfgang Bietenholz
A century ago Srinivasa Ramanujan – the great self-taught Indian genius of mathematics – died, shortly after returning from Cambridge, UK, where he had collaborated with Godfrey Hardy. Ramanujan contributed numerous outstanding results to different branches of mathematics, like analysis and number theory, with a focus on special functions and series. Here we refer to apparently weird values which he assigned to two simple divergent series, \sum_{n\geq 1}{n} and \sum_{n\geq 1}{n^{3}}. These values are sensible, however, as analytic continuations, which correspond to Riemann’s ζ-function. Moreover, they have applications in physics: we discuss the vacuum energy of the photon field, from which one can derive the Casimir force, which has been experimentally measured. We also discuss its interpretation, which remains controversial. This is a simple way to illustrate the concept of renormalization, which is vital in quantum field theory.
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