A. Rod Gover, Andrew Waldron

We develop a new approach to the conformal geometry of embedded hypersurfaces by treating them as conformal infinities of conformally compact manifolds. This involves the Loewner–Nirenberg-type problem of finding on the interior a metric that is both conformally compact and of constant scalar curvature. Our first result is an asymptotic solution to all orders. This involves log terms. We show that the coefficient of the first of these is a new hypersurface conformal invariant which generalises to higher dimensions the important Willmore invariant of embedded surfaces. We call this the obstruction density. For even dimensional hypersurfaces it is a fundamental curvature invariant. We make the latter notion precise and show that the obstruction density and the trace-free second fundamental form are, in a suitable sense, the only such invariants. We also show that this obstruction to smoothness is a scalar density analog of the Fefferman–Graham obstruction tensor for Poincaré–Einstein metrics; in part this is achieved by exploiting Bernstein–Gel’fand–Gel’fand machinery. The solution to the constant scalar curvature problem provides a smooth hypersurface defining density determined canonically by the embedding up to the order of the obstruction. We give two key applications: the construction of conformal hypersurface invariants and the construction of conformal differential operators. In particular we present an infinite family of conformal powers of the Laplacian determined canonically by the conformal embedding. In general these depend non-trivially on the embedding and, in contrast to Graham–Jennes–Mason–Sparling operators intrinsic to even dimensional hypersurfaces, exist to all orders. These extrinsic conformal Laplacian powers determine an explicit holographic formula for the obstruction density.