G. N. Watson

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For other people named George Neville, see George Neville (disambiguation).
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G. N. Watson
Born George Neville Watson
(1886-01-31)31 January 1886
Westward Ho!
Died 2 February 1965(1965-02-02) (aged 79)
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
Nationality United Kingdom
Fields mathematics
Institutions University of Birmingham
University of Cambridge
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge
Doctoral advisor E. T. Whittaker[1]
Known for Whittaker and Watson text
Watson's quintuple product identity
Notable awards Smith's Prize (1909)
Sylvester Medal (1946)
De Morgan Medal (1947)
Fellow of the Royal Society[2]

George Neville Watson (31 January 1886 – 2 February 1965) was an English mathematician, who applied complex analysis to the theory of special functions. His collaboration on the 1915 second edition of E. T. Whittaker's A Course of Modern Analysis (1902) produced the classic “Whittaker and Watson” text. In 1918 he proved a significant result known as Watson's lemma, that has many applications in the theory on the asymptotic behavior of exponential integrals.[2][3][4]


He was educated at St Paul's School, as a pupil of F. S. Macaulay, and Trinity College, Cambridge. There he encountered Whittaker, though their overlap was only two years. He became Professor at the University of Birmingham in 1918, where he remained until 1951.

He was awarded an honorary MSc Pure Science in 1919 by Birmingham University.[5]


His Treatise on the theory of Bessel functions (1922)[6] also became a classic, in particular in regard to the asymptotic expansions of Bessel functions.

He subsequently spent many years on Ramanujan's formulae in the area of complex multiplication, mock theta functions and class numbers, and for some time looked after Ramanujan's lost notebook. His interests included solvable cases of the quintic equation. He introduced Watson's quintuple product identity.

Honours and awards[edit]

Watson was elected to the Royal Society,[2] and in 1946, he received the Sylvester Medal from the Society.

He is sometimes confused with the mathematician G. L. Watson, who worked on quadratic forms, and G. Watson, a statistician.


  1. ^ G. N. Watson at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  2. ^ a b c Whittaker, J. M. (1966). "George Neville Watson 1886-1965". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 12: 520–526. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1966.0026. 
  3. ^ Rankin, R. A. (1966). "George Neville Watson". Journal of the London Mathematical Society: 551–565. doi:10.1112/jlms/s1-41.1.551. 
  4. ^ O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "G. N. Watson", MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews .
  5. ^ "University campus Blue Plaque Trail". Birmingham University. Retrieved 12 November 2014. 
  6. ^ Carmichael, R. D. (1924). "Review: A Treatise on the Theory of Bessel Functions, by G. N. Watson". Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 30 (7): 362–364. doi:10.1090/s0002-9904-1924-03906-8.