Title:

Singular minimizers in the calculus of variations

This thesis examines the possible failure of regularity for minimizers of onedimensional variational problems. The direct method of the calculus of variations gives rigorous assurance that minimizers exist, but necessarily admits the possibility that minimizers might not be smooth. Regularity theory seeks to assert some extra smoothness of minimizers. Tonelli's partial regularity theorem states that any absolutely continuous minimizer has a (possibly infinite) classical derivative everywhere, and this derivative is continuous as a function into the extended real line. We examine the limits of this theorem. We find an example of a reasonable problem where partial regularity fails, and examples where partial regularity holds, but the infinite derivatives of minimizers permitted by the theorem occur very often, in precise senses. We construct continuous Lagrangians, strictly convex and superlinear in the third variable, such that the associated variational problems have minimizers nondifferentiable on dense second category sets. Thus mere continuity is an insufficient smoothness assumption for Tonelli's partial regularity theorem. Davie showed that any compact null set can occur as the singular set of a minimizer to a problem given via a smooth Lagrangian with quadratic growth. The proof relies on enforcing the occurrence of the Lavrentiev phenomenon. We give a new proof of the result, but constructing also a Lagrangian with arbitrary superlinear growth, and in which the Lavrentiev phenomenon does not occur in the problem. Universal singular sets record how often a given Lagrangian can have minimizers with infinite derivative. Despite being negligible in terms of both topology and category, they can have dimension two: any compact purely unrectifiable set can lie inside the universal singular set of a Lagrangian with arbitrary superlinearity. We show this also to be true of Fσ purely unrectifiable sets, suggesting a possible characterization of universal singular sets.
