- Algebraic topology
Algebraic topology is a branch of
mathematicswhich uses tools from abstract algebrato study topological spaces. The basic goal is to find algebraic invariants that classify topological spaces up to homeomorphism. In many situations this is too much to hope for and it is more prudent to aim for a more modest goal, classification up to homotopy equivalence.
Although algebraic topology primarily uses algebra to study topological problems, the converse, using topology to solve algebraic problems, is sometimes also possible. Algebraic topology, for example, allows for a convenient proof that any subgroup of a
free groupis again a free group.
The method of algebraic invariants
The goal is to take topological spaces and further categorize or classify them. An older name for the subject was
combinatorial topology, implying an emphasis on how a space X was constructed from simpler ones (the modern standard tool for such construction is the CW-complex). The basic method now applied in algebraic topology is to investigate spaces via algebraic invariants by mapping them, for example, to groups which have a great deal of manageable structure in a way that respects the relation of homeomorphism(or more general homotopy) of spaces. This allows one to recast statements about topological spaces into statements about groups, which are often easier to prove.
Two major ways in which this can be done are through
fundamental groups, or more generally homotopy theory, and through homology and cohomologygroups. The fundamental groups give us basic information about the structure of a topological space, but they are often nonabelian and can be difficult to work with. The fundamental group of a (finite) simplicial complexdoes have a finite presentation.
Homology and cohomology groups, on the other hand, are abelian and in many important cases finitely generated.
Finitely generated abelian groups are completely classified and are particularly easy to work with.
etting in category theory
In general, all constructions of algebraic topology are functorial; the notions of category,
functorand natural transformationoriginated here. Fundamental groups and homology and cohomology groups are not only "invariants" of the underlying topological space, in the sense that two topological spaces which are homeomorphichave the same associated groups, but their associated morphisms also correspond — a continuous mapping of spaces induces a group homomorphism on the associated groups, and these homomorphisms can be used to show non-existence (or, much more deeply, existence) of mappings.
Results on homology
Several useful results follow immediately from working with finitely generated abelian groups. The free rank of the "n"-th homology group of a simplicial complex is equal to the "n"-th
Betti number, so one can use the homology groups of a simplicial complex to calculate its Euler-Poincaré characteristic. As another example, the top-dimensional integral homology group of a closed manifolddetects orientability: this group is isomorphic to either the integers or 0, according as the manifold is orientable or not. Thus, a great deal of topological information is encoded in the homology of a given topological space.
Beyond simplicial homology, which is defined only for simplicial complexes, one can use the differential structure of smooth
manifolds via de Rham cohomology, or Čech or sheaf cohomologyto investigate the solvability of differential equations defined on the manifold in question. De Rhamshowed that all of these approaches were interrelated and that, for a closed, oriented manifold, the Betti numbers derived through simplicial homology were the same Betti numbers as those derived through de Rham cohomology. This was extended in the 1950s, when Eilenberg and Steenrod generalized this approach. They defined homology and cohomology as functorsequipped with natural transformationssubject to certain axioms (e.g., a weak equivalenceof spaces passes to an isomorphism of homology groups), verified that all existing (co)homology theories satisfied these axioms, and then proved that such an axiomatization uniquely characterized the theory.
Applications of algebraic topology
Classic applications of algebraic topology include:
Brouwer fixed point theorem: every continuous map from the unit "n"-disk to itself has a fixed point.
* The "n"-sphere admits a nowhere-vanishing continuous unit vector field if and only if "n" is odd. (For "n"=2, this is sometimes called the "
hairy ball theorem".)
Borsuk-Ulam theorem: any continuous map from the "n"-sphere to Euclidean "n"-space identifies at least one pair of antipodal points.
* Any subgroup of a
free groupis free. This result is quite interesting, because the statement is purely algebraic yet the simplest proof is topological. Namely, any free group "G" may be realized as the fundamental group of a graph "X". The main theorem on covering spaces tells us that every subgroup "H" of "G" is the fundamental group of some covering space "Y" of "X"; but every such "Y" is again a graph. Therefore its fundamental group "H" is free.
Notable algebraic topologists
Luitzen Egbertus Jan Brouwer
Otto Hermann Künneth
Saunders Mac Lane
George W. Whitehead
Egbert van Kampen
Important theorems in algebraic topology
Brouwer fixed point theorem
Cellular approximation theorem
*Poincaré duality theorem
Universal coefficient theorem
Van Kampen's theorem
* Important publications in algebraic topology
*citation |last= May |first=J. P. |title=A Concise Course in Algebraic Topology |year=1999 |publisher=U. Chicago Press, Chicago |url=http://www.math.uchicago.edu/~may/CONCISE/ConciseRevised.pdf |accessdate=2008-09-27.
*citation |last=Bredon |first=Glen E. |title=Topology and Geometry |year=1993 |publisher=Springer |series=Graduate Texts in Mathematics 139 |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=G74V6UzL_PUC&printsec=frontcover&dq=bredon+topology+and+geometry&client=firefox-a&sig=4IMV0fFDS |accessdate=2008-04-01 |isbn=0-387-97926-3.
*citation| last=Hatcher |first= Allen |title=Algebraic Topology |url=http://www.math.cornell.edu/~hatcher/AT/ATpage.html |year= 2002 |publisher=Cambridge University Press |place=Cambridge |isbn=0-521-79540-0. A modern, geometrically flavored introduction to algebraic topology.
*citation| last=Maunder |first=C.R.F. |title=Algebraic Topology |year=1970 |publisher= Van Nostrand Reinhold |place=London |isbn=0-486-69131-4.
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