Topics in perturbation theory
In providing a means of progressively improving an initial estimate, perturbation series have become a ubiquitous tool in modern physics. However, and mainly because this stepwise process of improvement rapidly becomes increasingly involved, surprisingly little is known about the formal properties of the series obtained. This thesis therefore investigates some aspects of these properties and how they effect the application of these techniques, with an emphasis on quantum field theory and the phenomenology of e+e(^-) colliders. One of the better understood examples of a perturbative series is the WKB one which is widely used to approximate the energy levels of quantum mechanical systems. Recently much interest has centred on a modification of this, the SWKB series. Apart from (possibly) offering an improvement on the original, this is intrinsically interesting in being related to the supersymmetry of field theory. Furthermore, as Chapter 1 explains, there is a close connection between the cases where the initial estimate requires no correction and an important set of quantum mechanical problems (the "shape invariant" ones) which can be solved elegantly and completely. The situation in field theory is more complicated, not least because the series for any particular problem is no longer unique. While this presents few theoretical difficulties, it has serious consequences when attempts are made to compare predictions with experiment. This obstacle is particularly severe in Quantum Chromodynamics and its fundamental constant (A(_QCD)) is therefore only roughly known at present. It will be argued that current responses to this are all imperfect, but that tests of the theory can be envisaged that circumvent the problem. This leads into questions concerning the origin of the divergences in the perturbation series - for although it may initially provide usefully improved estimates, the series probably breaks down eventually. Existing arguments about this topic are critically reviewed - and in one case substantially simplified - before an alternative one is proposed in some detail. By concentrating on a particularly restricted situation, the Common Effective Charge Approach simplifies matters to the extent that issues such as non-analyticity of functions and the potential accuracy of perturbative techniques in realistic applications can be conveniently investigated.