Quantum Electrodynamics is the best tested theory on earth (perhaps
in the universe, depending on how many aliens there are). The practitioners
(starting with Schwinger and
Feynman, and
now being led by
Tom
Kinoshita here at Cornell)
typically calculate ``**g-2**'' for the electron. They've
calculated it as a series to eighth
order
in the electron charge *e*,
or more properly to fourth order in the fine-structure
constant

These calculations aren't easy. The first term is represented by a Feynman diagram with one closed loop, and requires no more than a page or two of hand calculation. The second term represents seven diagrams, and took seven years. Seventy two Feynman diagrams are needed for the third term, and all of them have been evaluated exactly using symbolic manipulation programs on computers, after nearly thirty years of hard work. The fourth term requires the evaluation of 891 four-loop Feynman diagrams, and has been estimated numerically using large-scale computations on supercomputers.

Extremely clever experiments have measured this same number. For the electron, it is measured to be

and for the positron (the anti-electron) it's

(If the electron and positron did not have the same values for
**g**,
that would be an amazing surprise.)

Now, to compare experiment and theory, we need to know
the value of the fine-structure constant
.
The measurements of the value of this constant aren't as accurate
as those of **g-2**!
One can measure
using the quantum Hall effect,
get 1/137.0360037(27) (an accuracy of 0.020ppm), and predict

This is undoubtedly the most accurate prediction ever made, and one of the most difficult. It's also one of the most accurate measurements ever made.

What's the point? Well, it turns out that this series does not converge! Freeman Dyson gave a wonderful argument that the radius of convergence of this function is zero. He noticed that the theory was sick (unstable) for negative , (complex electron charge), no matter how small alpha was. Since any circle about includes some of the sick region, the series could not converge! Just like Stirling's formula, the theory is mighty useful even though it won't keep improving as we calculate more and more terms.

This was the inspiration for our work showing that elastic theory has zero radius of convergence.

- Elastic Theory has Zero Radius of Convergence.
- What is the radius of convergence?
- Famous Asymptotic Series

Last modified: June 5, 1997

James P. Sethna, sethna@lassp.cornell.edu

Statistical Mechanics: Entropy, Order Parameters, and Complexity, now available at Oxford University Press (USA, Europe).