Asymptotics of characters of symmetric groups, genus expansion and free probability

Research paper by Piotr Sniady

Indexed on: 21 Oct '05Published on: 21 Oct '05Published in: Mathematics - Combinatorics


The convolution of indicators of two conjugacy classes on the symmetric group S_q is usually a complicated linear combination of indicators of many conjugacy classes. Similarly, a product of the moments of the Jucys--Murphy element involves many conjugacy classes with complicated coefficients. In this article we consider a combinatorial setup which allows us to manipulate such products easily: to each conjugacy class we associate a two-dimensional surface and the asymptotic properties of the conjugacy class depend only on the genus of the resulting surface. This construction closely resembles the genus expansion from the random matrix theory. As the main application we study irreducible representations of symmetric groups S_q for large q. We find the asymptotic behavior of characters when the corresponding Young diagram rescaled by a factor q^{-1/2} converge to a prescribed shape. The character formula (known as the Kerov polynomial) can be viewed as a power series, the terms of which correspond to two-dimensional surfaces with prescribed genus and we compute explicitly the first two terms, thus we prove a conjecture of Biane.