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Mathematics of Computation

Published by the American Mathematical Society, the Mathematics of Computation (MCOM) is devoted to research articles of the highest quality in all areas of pure and applied mathematics.

ISSN 1088-6842 (online) ISSN 0025-5718 (print)

The 2020 MCQ for Mathematics of Computation is 1.98.

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On the numerical evaluation of Fredholm determinants
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by Folkmar Bornemann PDF
Math. Comp. 79 (2010), 871-915 Request permission


Some significant quantities in mathematics and physics are most naturally expressed as the Fredholm determinant of an integral operator, most notably many of the distribution functions in random matrix theory. Though their numerical values are of interest, there is no systematic numerical treatment of Fredholm determinants to be found in the literature. Instead, the few numerical evaluations that are available rely on eigenfunction expansions of the operator, if expressible in terms of special functions, or on alternative, numerically more straightforwardly accessible analytic expressions, e.g., in terms of Painlevé transcendents, that have masterfully been derived in some cases. In this paper we close the gap in the literature by studying projection methods and, above all, a simple, easily implementable, general method for the numerical evaluation of Fredholm determinants that is derived from the classical Nyström method for the solution of Fredholm equations of the second kind. Using Gauss–Legendre or Clenshaw–Curtis as the underlying quadrature rule, we prove that the approximation error essentially behaves like the quadrature error for the sections of the kernel. In particular, we get exponential convergence for analytic kernels, which are typical in random matrix theory. The application of the method to the distribution functions of the Gaussian unitary ensemble (GUE), in the bulk scaling limit and the edge scaling limit, is discussed in detail. After extending the method to systems of integral operators, we evaluate the two-point correlation functions of the more recently studied Airy and $\text {Airy}_1$ processes.
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Additional Information
  • Folkmar Bornemann
  • Affiliation: Zentrum Mathematik – M3, Technische Universität München, Boltzmannstr. 3, 85747 Garching bei München, Germany
  • Email:
  • Received by editor(s): June 24, 2008
  • Received by editor(s) in revised form: March 16, 2009
  • Published electronically: September 24, 2009
  • © Copyright 2009 American Mathematical Society
    The copyright for this article reverts to public domain 28 years after publication.
  • Journal: Math. Comp. 79 (2010), 871-915
  • MSC (2000): Primary 65R20, 65F40; Secondary 47G10, 15A52
  • DOI:
  • MathSciNet review: 2600548