The Gamma function is a generalization of the factorial function to non-integer numbers.

Recall that, if , its factorial isso that satisfies the following recursion:

The Gamma function satisfies a similar recursion:but it is defined also when is not an integer.

The following is a possible definition of the Gamma function.

Definition
The **Gamma function**
is a function
satisfying the following
equation:

While the domain of definition of the Gamma function can be extended beyond the set of strictly positive real numbers (for example to complex numbers), the somewhat restrictive definition given above is more than sufficient to address all the problems involving the Gamma function that are found in these lectures.

Given the above definition, it is straightforward to prove that the Gamma function satisfies the following recursion:

Proof

The recursion can be derived by using integration by parts:

When the argument of the Gamma function is a natural number then its value is equal to the factorial of :

Proof

First of all, we have that

Using the recursion , we obtain

The following sections contain more details about the Gamma function.

A well-known fact, which is often used in probability theory and statistics is the following:

Proof

By using the definition and performing a change of variable, we obtain

By using this fact and the recursion formula previously shown, it is immediate to prove thatfor .

Proof

The result is obtained by iterating the recursion formula:

There are also other special cases in which the value of the Gamma function
can be derived analytically, but it is not possible to express
in terms of elementary functions for every
.
As a consequence, one often needs to resort to numerical algorithms to compute
.
For example, the Matlab command `gamma(z)`

returns the
value of the Gamma function at the point `z`

.

For a thorough discussion of a number of algorithms that can be employed to compute numerical approximations of see Abramowitz and Stegun (1965).

The definition of the Gamma function:can be generalized by substituting the upper bound of integration () with a variable ():The function thus obtained is called lower incomplete Gamma function.

Below you can find some exercises with explained solutions.

Compute the following ratio:

Solution

We need to repeatedly apply the recursive formulato the numerator of the ratio:

Compute

Solution

We need to use the relation of the Gamma function to the factorial function: which, for , becomes

Express the following integral in terms of the Gamma function:

Solution

This is accomplished as follows:where in the last step we have just used the definition of Gamma function.

Abramowitz, M. and I. A. Stegun (1965) Hanbook of mathematical functions: with formulas, graphs, and mathematical tables, Courier Dover Publications.

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