Analytic number theory

In mathematics, analytic number theory is a branch of number theory that uses methods from mathematical analysis to solve problems about the integers.[1] It is often said to have begun with Peter Gustav Lejeune Dirichlet's 1837 introduction of Dirichlet L-functions to give the first proof of Dirichlet's theorem on arithmetic progressions.[1][2] It is well known for its results on prime numbers (involving the Prime Number Theorem and Riemann zeta function) and additive number theory (such as the Goldbach conjecture and Waring's problem).

Analytic number theory can be split up into two major parts, divided more by the type of problems they attempt to solve than fundamental differences in technique.

Much of analytic number theory was inspired by the prime number theorem. Let π(x) be the prime-counting function that gives the number of primes less than or equal to x, for any real number x. For example, π(10) = 4 because there are four prime numbers (2, 3, 5 and 7) less than or equal to 10. The prime number theorem then states that x / ln(x) is a good approximation to π(x), in the sense that the limit of the quotient of the two functions π(x) and x / ln(x) as x approaches infinity is 1:

In two papers from 1848 and 1850, the Russian mathematician Pafnuty L'vovich Chebyshev attempted to prove the asymptotic law of distribution of prime numbers. His work is notable for the use of the zeta function ζ(s) (for real values of the argument "s", as are works of Leonhard Euler, as early as 1737) predating Riemann's celebrated memoir of 1859, and he succeeded in proving a slightly weaker form of the asymptotic law, namely, that if the limit of π(x)/(x/ln(x)) as x goes to infinity exists at all, then it is necessarily equal to one.[6] He was able to prove unconditionally that this ratio is bounded above and below by two explicitly given constants near to 1 for all x.[7] Although Chebyshev's paper did not prove the Prime Number Theorem, his estimates for π(x) were strong enough for him to prove Bertrand's postulate that there exists a prime number between n and 2n for any integer n ≥ 2.


"…it is very probable that all roots are real. Of course one would wish for a rigorous proof here; I have for the time being, after some fleeting vain attempts, provisionally put aside the search for this, as it appears dispensable for the next objective of my investigation."

…es ist sehr wahrscheinlich, dass alle Wurzeln reell sind. Hiervon wäre allerdings ein strenger Beweis zu wünschen; ich habe indess die Aufsuchung desselben nach einigen flüchtigen vergeblichen Versuchen vorläufig bei Seite gelassen, da er für den nächsten Zweck meiner Untersuchung entbehrlich schien.

Riemann's statement of the Riemann hypothesis, from his 1859 paper.[8] (He was discussing a version of the zeta function, modified so that its roots are real rather than on the critical line.)

Bernhard Riemann made some famous contributions to modern analytic number theory. In a single short paper (the only one he published on the subject of number theory), he investigated the Riemann zeta function and established its importance for understanding the distribution of prime numbers. He made a series of conjectures about properties of the zeta function, one of which is the well-known Riemann hypothesis.

Extending the ideas of Riemann, two proofs of the prime number theorem were obtained independently by Jacques Hadamard and Charles Jean de la Vallée-Poussin and appeared in the same year (1896). Both proofs used methods from complex analysis, establishing as a main step of the proof that the Riemann zeta function ζ(s) is non-zero for all complex values of the variable s that have the form s = 1 + it with t > 0.[9]

The biggest technical change after 1950 has been the development of sieve methods,[10] particularly in multiplicative problems. These are combinatorial in nature, and quite varied. The extremal branch of combinatorial theory has in return been greatly influenced by the value placed in analytic number theory on quantitative upper and lower bounds. Another recent development is probabilistic number theory,[11] which uses methods from probability theory to estimate the distribution of number theoretic functions, such as how many prime divisors a number has.

Developments within analytic number theory are often refinements of earlier techniques, which reduce the error terms and widen their applicability. For example, the circle method of Hardy and Littlewood was conceived as applying to power series near the unit circle in the complex plane; it is now thought of in terms of finite exponential sums (that is, on the unit circle, but with the power series truncated). The needs of diophantine approximation are for auxiliary functions that are not generating functions—their coefficients are constructed by use of a pigeonhole principle—and involve several complex variables. The fields of diophantine approximation and transcendence theory have expanded, to the point that the techniques have been applied to the Mordell conjecture.

Theorems and results within analytic number theory tend not to be exact structural results about the integers, for which algebraic and geometrical tools are more appropriate. Instead, they give approximate bounds and estimates for various number theoretical functions, as the following examples illustrate.

Euclid showed that there are infinitely many prime numbers. An important question is to determine the asymptotic distribution of the prime numbers; that is, a rough description of how many primes are smaller than a given number. Gauss, amongst others, after computing a large list of primes, conjectured that the number of primes less than or equal to a large number N is close to the value of the integral

In 1859 Bernhard Riemann used complex analysis and a special meromorphic function now known as the Riemann zeta function to derive an analytic expression for the number of primes less than or equal to a real number x. Remarkably, the main term in Riemann's formula was exactly the above integral, lending substantial weight to Gauss's conjecture. Riemann found that the error terms in this expression, and hence the manner in which the primes are distributed, are closely related to the complex zeros of the zeta function. Using Riemann's ideas and by getting more information on the zeros of the zeta function, Jacques Hadamard and Charles Jean de la Vallée-Poussin managed to complete the proof of Gauss's conjecture. In particular, they proved that if

This remarkable result is what is now known as the prime number theorem. It is a central result in analytic number theory. Loosely speaking, it states that given a large number N, the number of primes less than or equal to N is about N/log(N).

More generally, the same question can be asked about the number of primes in any arithmetic progression a+nq for any integer n. In one of the first applications of analytic techniques to number theory, Dirichlet proved that any arithmetic progression with a and q coprime contains infinitely many primes. The prime number theorem can be generalised to this problem; letting

There are also many deep and wide-ranging conjectures in number theory whose proofs seem too difficult for current techniques, such as the twin prime conjecture which asks whether there are infinitely many primes p such that p + 2 is prime. On the assumption of the Elliott–Halberstam conjecture it has been proven recently that there are infinitely many primes p such that p + k is prime for some positive even k at most 12. Also, it has been proven unconditionally (i.e. not depending on unproven conjectures) that there are infinitely many primes p such that p + k is prime for some positive even k at most 246.

One of the most important problems in additive number theory is Waring's problem, which asks whether it is possible, for any k ≥ 2, to write any positive integer as the sum of a bounded number of kth powers,

The case for squares, k = 2, was answered by Lagrange in 1770, who proved that every positive integer is the sum of at most four squares. The general case was proved by Hilbert in 1909, using algebraic techniques which gave no explicit bounds. An important breakthrough was the application of analytic tools to the problem by Hardy and Littlewood. These techniques are known as the circle method, and give explicit upper bounds for the function G(k), the smallest number of kth powers needed, such as Vinogradov's bound

Diophantine problems are concerned with integer solutions to polynomial equations: one may study the distribution of solutions, that is, counting solutions according to some measure of "size" or height.

An important example is the Gauss circle problem, which asks for integers points (x y) which satisfy

One of the most useful tools in multiplicative number theory are Dirichlet series, which are functions of a complex variable defined by an infinite series of the form

hence the coefficients of the product of two Dirichlet series are the multiplicative convolutions of the original coefficients. Furthermore, techniques such as partial summation and Tauberian theorems can be used to get information about the coefficients from analytic information about the Dirichlet series. Thus a common method for estimating a multiplicative function is to express it as a Dirichlet series (or a product of simpler Dirichlet series using convolution identities), examine this series as a complex function and then convert this analytic information back into information about the original function.

Euler showed that the fundamental theorem of arithmetic implies (at least formally) the Euler product

Euler's proof of the infinity of prime numbers makes use of the divergence of the term at the left hand side for s = 1 (the so-called harmonic series), a purely analytic result. Euler was also the first to use analytical arguments for the purpose of studying properties of integers, specifically by constructing generating power series. This was the beginning of analytic number theory.[13]

Later, Riemann considered this function for complex values of s and showed that this function can be extended to a meromorphic function on the entire plane with a simple pole at s = 1. This function is now known as the Riemann Zeta function and is denoted by ζ(s). There is a plethora of literature on this function and the function is a special case of the more general Dirichlet L-functions.

In the early 20th century G. H. Hardy and Littlewood proved many results about the zeta function in an attempt to prove the Riemann Hypothesis. In fact, in 1914, Hardy proved that there were infinitely many zeros of the zeta function on the critical line

This led to several theorems describing the density of the zeros on the critical line.

On specialized aspects the following books have become especially well-known:

Certain topics have not yet reached book form in any depth. Some examples are (i) Montgomery's pair correlation conjecture and the work that initiated from it, (ii) the new results of Goldston, Pintz and Yilidrim on small gaps between primes, and (iii) the Green–Tao theorem showing that arbitrarily long arithmetic progressions of primes exist.