Check out this exciting new preprint by Vaughan Jones!

V.F.R. Jones,

Some Unitary Representations of Thompson’s Groups and, arXiv:1412.7740.

Check out this exciting new preprint by Vaughan Jones!

V.F.R. Jones,

Some Unitary Representations of Thompson’s Groups and, arXiv:1412.7740.

Yesterday I received the shocking news of the passing of Tim Cochran (1955-2014), a leader in the field of knot and link concordance. The Rice University obituary is here.

A groundbreaking paper which made a deep impression on a lot of people, including me, was Cochran-Orr-Teichner’s Knot concordance, Whitney towers and signatures. This paper revealed an unexpected geometric filtration of the topological knot concordance group, which formed the basis for much of Tim Cochran’s subsequent work with collaborators, and the work of many other people.

In this post, in memory of Tim, I will say a few words about roughly what all of this is about. (more…)

I would like to draw attention to a fascinating MO question by Dylan Thurston, originally asked, it seems, by John Conway:

The question asks whether, rather than searching for Reidemeister moves to simplify a knot diagram, we could instead search for “big Reidemeister moves” in which we view a section which passes underneath the whole knot (only undercrossing) or over the whole knot (only overcrossing) as a single unit, and we replace it by another undersection (or oversection) which has the same endpoints.

This question (or more generally, the question of how to efficiently simplify knot diagrams in practice) loosely relates to a fantasy about being able to photograph a knot with a smartphone, and for the phone to be able to identify it and to tag it with the correct knot type. Incidentally, I’d like to also draw attention to a question by Ryan Budney on the topic of computer vision identification of knots, which is topic I speculated about here:

A core question to which all of this relates is:

And perhaps more generally, are there any very hard ambient isotopies of knots?

Norwegian duo Ylvis have just released a music video about… well, essentially it’s about physical knot theory. It’s about tying “the greatest knot of all”, the Trucker’s hitch.

I don’t know about you, but when I tell non-mathematicians what knot theory is, I often find myself telling a story about identifying a knotted protein by its knottedness- something about different proteins tending to be bendy to differing degrees, so that certain types of protein tend to form knots with higher writhe than others, and that this helps biologists and chemists to distinguish proteins which they would otherwise need a lot of time and money and an electron microscope to tell apart.

One major problem with this story, and with similar stories, is that the knot diagrams have to be photographed (and thus identified) by hand. The pictures are not always easy to interpret (e.g. distinguishing overcrossings from undercrossings):

Also resolution might be low, objects might be in the way…

This is a computer vision problem as opposed to a math problem- but wouldn’t it be nice if a computer could recognise a knot type from a suboptimal picture? If you could snap a picture of yourself standing in front of an knot making bunny ears behind it, and your computer would automatically tag it with the correct knot type? Furthermore, wouldn’t it be nice if a computer could recognise your knot on the basis of many noisy pictures, perhaps taken from different angles? (more…)

Marc Culler and I released SnapPy 2.1 today. The main new feature is the ManifoldHP variant of Manifold which does all floating-point calculations in quad-double precision, which has four times as many significant digits as the ordinary double precision numbers used by Manifold. More precisely, numbers used in ManifoldHP have 212 bits for the mantissa/significand (roughly 63 decimal digits) versus 53 bits with Manifold.

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…)

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.

I see topological objects as natural receptacles for information. Any knot invariant is information- perhaps a knot with crossing number is a fancy way of writing the number , or a knot with Alexander polynomial is a fancy way of carrying the information . 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…)

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

Lewin, D., Gan O., Bruckstein A.M.,

TRIVIAL OR KNOT: A SOFTWARE TOOL AND ALGORITHMS FOR KNOT SIMPLIFICATION,

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…)