Low Dimensional Topology

January 24, 2014

Distinguishing the left-hand trefoil from the right-hand trefoil by colouring

Filed under: Knot theory — dmoskovich @ 4:09 am

This morning, I’ve been looking through a very entertaining paper in which Roger Fenn distinguishes the left-hand trefoil from the right-hand trefoil in a way that could be explained to elementary school children.

R. Fenn, Tackling the trefoils. (more…)

December 12, 2013

Banker finds a duplication in a 3-manifold table

Filed under: 3-manifolds,Triangulations — Ryan Budney @ 12:48 pm

Daniel Moskovich recently wrote about the discovery by a lawyer of a duplication in the knot tables called the “Perko pair”.

Now a banker has found another duplicate in yet another table of 3-manifolds. This time it was Ben Burton, and the duplicate appears in the Hildebrand-Weeks cusped hyperbolic census.


November 26, 2013

What’s Next? A conference in question form

Mark your calendars now: in June 2014, Cornell University will host “What’s Next? The mathematical legacy of Bill Thurston”.  It looks like it will be a very exciting event, see the (lightly edited) announcement from the organizers below the fold.

Conference banner

November 19, 2013

What is the Shannon Capacity of a coloured knot?

Filed under: Knot theory,Misc. — dmoskovich @ 10:41 am

I see topological objects as natural receptacles for information. Any knot invariant is information- perhaps a knot with crossing number n is a fancy way of writing the number n, or a knot with Alexander polynomial \Delta(X) is a fancy way of carrying the information \Delta(X). A few days ago, I was reading Tom Leinster’s nice description of Shannon capacity of a graph, and I was wondering whether we could also define Shannon capacity for a knot. Avishy Carmi and I think that we can (and the knots I care about are coloured), and although the idea is rather raw I’d like to record it here, mainly for my own benefit.

For millenea, the Inca used knots in the form of quipu to communicate information. Let’s think how we might attempt to do the same. (more…)

November 7, 2013

Debunking knot theory’s favourite urban legend

Filed under: Uncategorized — dmoskovich @ 11:04 pm

The following post recycles Richard Elwes’s lovely blog post and this MathOverflow answer. It is dedicated to the memory of the greatest knot-shaker I have met, Kumar Pallana (1918-2013).

Yesterday I received correspondence from a certain Kenneth A. Perko Jr., whose name perhaps you have heard before. Its contents are too delicious not to share- knot theory’s favourite urban legend is completely false!

Myth: Ken Perko, a New York lawyer with no formal mathematical training, was having a slow day at the office. Bored and in-between troublesome clients, he toyed with a long piece of rope, which he had tangled up to represent knot 10_{161} in Rolfsen’s table (Rolfsen, like Kuga, was popular among non-mathematicians at the time). As Perko played with it, the knotted rope began to change before his eyes, and glancing back at the book, he suddenly realized that what he was holding in his hands was the 10_{162}! Was it magic? Ken Perko shook the rope, and did it again. Sure enough, the 10_{161} and 10_{162} were the same knot!
Excited, Ken Perko shot off a paper to PAMS, containing only a title and a list of figures demonstrating an ambient isotopy. His paper entered the Guiness Book of World Records as the “shortest mathematics paper of all time”, and Ken Perko obtained immortality.
This is the Perko pair:
Weisstein pair

What a story! The human drama, the “math for the masses” aspect that a complete amateur could make a massive mathematical discovery by playing with some string, the beautiful magenta pair of knots, the importance of attention to detail and using all your senses (not just your head)! What a shame that virtually everything written above turns out to be false! (more…)

October 13, 2013

A noteworthy knot simplification algorithm

Filed under: Computation and experiment,Knot theory — dmoskovich @ 8:26 am

This post concerns an intriguing undergraduate research project in computer engineering:

Lewin, D., Gan O., Bruckstein A.M.,
CIS Report No 9605, Technion, IIT, Haifa, 1996.

A curious aspect of the history of low dimensional topology are that it involves several people who started their mathematical life solving problems relating to knots and links, and then went on to become famous for something entirely different. The 2005 Nobel Prize winner in Economics, Robert Aumann, whose game theory course I had the honour to attend as an undergrad, might be the most famous example. In his 1956 PhD thesis, he proved asphericity of alternating knots, and that the Seifert surface is an essential surface which separates alternating knot complements into two components the closures of both of which are handlebodies.

Daniel Lewin is another remarkable individual who started out in knot theory. His topological work is less famous than Aumann’s, and he was murdered at the age of 31 which gives his various achievements less time to have been celebrated; but he was a remarkable individual, and his low dimensional topology work deserves to be much better known. (more…)

October 2, 2013

Regina 4.94

Filed under: 3-manifolds,Computation and experiment,Triangulations — Benjamin Burton @ 4:00 pm

It’s the season for it!  For those of you who work with normal surfaces, Regina 4.94 also came out last week.  It adds triangulated vertex links, edge drilling, and a lot more speed and grunt.

Take the new linear/integer programming machinery for a spin with the pre-rolled triangulation of the Weber Seifert dodecahedral space.  Regina can now prove 0-efficiency in just 10 seconds, or enumerate all 1751 vertex surfaces in ~10 minutes, or (with a little extra code to coordinate the slicing and searching for compressing discs) prove the entire space to be non-Haken in ~2 hours.

Read more of what’s new, or download and tinker at regina.sourceforge.net.

September 30, 2013

SnapPy 2.0 released

Marc Culler and I pleased to announce version 2.0 of SnapPy, a program for studying the topology and geometry of 3-manifolds. Many of the new features are graphical in nature, so we made a new tutorial video to show them off. Highlights include

July 11, 2013

Smooth proof of Reidemeister-Singer

Every construction I know of 3-manifold invariants from Heegaard splittings factors through the Reidemeister-Singer Theorem:

Reidemeister-Singer Theorem: For any two Heegaard splittings H_1 and H_2 of a 3-manifold M, there exists a third Heegaard splitting H which is a stabilization of both.

This theorem is definitely part of the big story in 3-manifold topology, and is usually proven in the PL category, as for example in Nikolai Saveliev’s Lectures on the Topology of 3-manifolds. There is another nice PL proof due to Craggs, Proc. Amer. Math. Soc. 57, n 1 (1976), 143-147.

I think of a Heegaard splitting as being intrinsically a smooth topology construction (a level set of a Morse function), and so I would really like the proof of Reidemeister-Singer to live in the smooth category. I think that there should be consistent smooth and PL stories of 3-manifold topology living side by side. In the 1970’s, Bonahon wrote a smooth proof of Reidemeister-Singer, which uses Cerf Theory (naturally, because we’re investigating paths between Morse functions). Unfortunately, Bonahon’s proof was never published, and it is lost.

A year ago (but I only saw it this morning), François Laudenbach posted a smooth proof of Reidemeister-Singer to arXiv: http://arxiv.org/abs/1202.1130. I think that this is wonderful! There are too few papers like this- there is insufficient incentive to streamline the storylines of foundations. I am very happy to have found this proof, and I want such a proof to be a part of my smooth 3-manifold topology foundations.

Edit: Thanks to George Mossessian and to Ryan Budney, who point out in the comments that Jesse Johnson proved Reidemeister-Singer using Rubinstein and Scharlemann’s sweep-outs, which involves singularity theory which is much less sophisticated that Cerf Theory: http://front.math.ucdavis.edu/0705.3712
Perhaps that should be the “smooth proof from The Book” (or the “proof from The Smooth Book”)!

July 8, 2013

Tangle Machines- Part 1

Filed under: Combinatorics,Misc. — dmoskovich @ 11:27 am

In today’s post, I will define tangle machines. In subsequent posts, I’ll realize them topologically and describe how we study them and more about what they mean.

To connect to what we already know, as a rough first approximation, a tangle machine is an algebraic structure obtained from taking a knot diagram coloured by a rack, then building a graph whose vertices correspond to the arcs of the diagram and whose edges correspond to crossings (the overcrossing arc is a single unit- so it “acts on” one undercrossing arc to change its colour and to convert it into another undercrossing arc). Such considerations give rise to a combinatorial diagrammatic-algebraic setup, and tangle machines are what comes from taking this setup seriously. One dream is that this setup is well-suited to modeling mutually interacting processes which satisfy a natural `conservation law’- and to move in a very applied direction of actually identifying tangle machine inside data.

To whet your appetite, below is a pretty figure illustrating a 9_{26} knot hiding inside a synthetic collection of phase transitions between anyons (an artificial and unrealistic collection; the hope is to find such things inside real-world data):

9_26 example


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