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I have come across the following deceptively simple expression:

$$ H_n^s=\sum_{j=1}^n(-1)^{j-1}\left(\begin{array}{c}n\\j\end{array}\right)j^{-s} $$

We have (using eg mathematica, though probably not difficult to prove): $H_n^0=1$, $H_n^1=H_n$ (the harmonic numbers), expressions involving hypergeometric series with unit argument for integer $s<0$ and involving polygamma functions for integer $s>1$. For fixed $n$ the sum is of course finite. My (closely related) questions are:

  1. Does this reduce to values of a known special function for arbitrary real (or complex) $s$?

  2. What is its asymptotic expansion for large $n$?

  3. Is there an efficient numerical method (avoiding cancellations) of evaluating it for large $n$?

Edit: Using Noam's approach I found two more terms that check numerically:

$$ H_n^s=\frac{(\ln n)^s}{\Gamma(s+1)}+\frac{\gamma(\ln n)^{s-1}}{\Gamma(s)}+\frac{6\gamma^2+\pi^2}{12\Gamma(s-1)}(\ln n)^{s-2}+\ldots $$

where $\gamma=0.577\ldots$ is the Euler constant. Further asymptotics very welcome.

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    $\begingroup$ Your $H_n^{s}$ is known as the so called "Roman harmonic number" introduced by Steven Roman. See the following two papers, downloadable from - presumably - Steven Roman's own website: sroman.com/matharticles/HarmonicLogarithms.pdf (formula (b) in Proposition 6.3) and sroman.com/matharticles/LogarithmicBinomialFormula.pdf . In the fist reference credits are given to D. Knuth. Also it appears on mathworld.wolfram.com/HarmonicNumber.html Eq.(60). $\endgroup$ – Johannes Trost Jan 9 '16 at 10:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Johannes Thanks very much for this. Two comments: Seems to be only considered for integer $s$. Also, in case Steven Roman's website is unavailable in the future, it is worth noting the references, which are, respectively: "The harmonic logarithms and the binomial formula" S. Roman, J. Combinat. Theor. Ser. A 63 143-163 (1993); "The logarithmic binomial formula" S.Roman, Amer. Math. Month. 641-648 (1992). $\endgroup$ – user25199 Jan 11 '16 at 9:07
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  1. Does this reduce to values of a known special function for arbitrary real (or complex) $s$?

Answered by Johannes Trost in a comment: it's also known as a "Roman harmonic number". But this and the associated references do not yield answers to the next two questions, so I continue:

  1. What is its asymptotic expansion for large $n$?

I don't have a full asymptotic expansion, but for starters $$ H_n^s = \frac{(\log n)^s}{\Gamma(s+1)} + O((\log n)^{\sigma-1}) $$ holds for each $s$ of positive real part $\sigma$. This follows from an integral formula that is also relevant to the final question:

  1. Is there an efficient numerical method (avoiding cancellations) of evaluating it for large $n$?

One standard approach to alternating sums such as $\sum_{j=0}^n (-1)^j {n \choose j} f(j)$ is to write them as weighted averages over $X$ of $\sum_{j=0}^n (-1)^j {n \choose j} X^j = (1-X)^n$, which in turn requires writing $f$ as a Laplace or Mellin transform. Here we're dealing with $\sum_{j=1}^n$, not $\sum_{j=0}^n$, but the same method applies: taking $X = e^{-x}$, we find $$ H_n^s = \frac1{\Gamma(s)} \int_0^\infty (1 - (1-e^{-x})^n) \, x^s \, \frac{dx}{x}. $$ The integrand is smooth, and positive for $s \in {\bf R}$ (whence $H_n^s > 0$ for all $n$ and $s>0$), so this formula can be used to evaluate $H_n^s$ with numerical integration techniques, and to estimate it asymptotically. For large $n$ the factor $1 - (1-e^{-x})^n$ behaves like the characteristic function of the interval $[0, \log n]$, which makes $H_n^s$ asymptotic to $$ \frac1{\Gamma(s)} \int_0^{\log n} x^s \, \frac{dx}{x} = \frac{(\log n)^s}{\Gamma(s+1)}. $$ A bit more care with the difference between $1 - (1-e^{-x})^n$ and $\chi_{[0,\log n]}$ yields the error estimate $O((\log n)^{\sigma - 1})$, and with further work it may be possible to derive more precise asymptotic estimates.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for "One standard approach to alternating sums" -- this has helped me quite a bit with an unrelated problem. $\endgroup$ – Ian Hincks Sep 29 '17 at 12:29
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Not an answer, but this may help with asymptotics:

According to Maple the o.g.f. for $H^s_n$ is

$$ \sum_{j=1}^\infty j^{-s} (-1)^{j-1} \sum_{n=j}^\infty {n \choose j} x^n = {\frac {1}{-1+x}{\it polylog} \left( s,{\frac {x}{-1+x}} \right) }$$

In particular this should be analytic for $|x|<1$.

EDIT: For positive integer values of $s$, Dilcher's formula says $$ H_n^s = \sum_{1 \le i_1 \le i_2 \le \ldots \le i_s \le n} \dfrac{1}{i_1 i_2 \ldots i_s} $$

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