A few days ago, my co-blogger Nathan Dunfield posted a counterexample to the Strong Neuwirth Conjecture.
N. Dunfield, A knot without a nonorientable essential spanning surface, arXiv:1509.06653
The Neuwirth Conjecture, posed by Neuwirth in 1963, asks roughly whether all knots can be embedded in surfaces in a way analogous to how a torus knot can be embedded in an unknotted torus. A weaker version, the “Weak Neuwirth Conjecture”, asks whether the knot group of any non-trivial knot in the 3-sphere can be presented as a product of free groups amalgameted along some subgroup. This was proven by Culler and Shalen in 1984. But nothing is proven about the ranks of these groups. The Neuwirth Conjecture would give the ranks as the genus of the surface. Thus, the Neuwirth Conjecture is an important conjecture for the structure theory of knot groups.
The Neuwirth Conjecture has been proven for many classes of knots, all via basically the same construction using a nonorientable essential spanning surface. The “Strong Neuwirth Conjecture” of Ozawa and Rubinstein asserts that this construction is always applicable because such a surface always exists.
Dunfield’s counterexample, verified by Snappea, indicates that we will need a different technique to prove the Neuwirth conjecture. Neuwirth’s Conjecture has just become even more alluring and interesting!
In my last post, I described how a train track on a surface determines a collection of loops in a surface, namely the loops that are carried by the track. Looking at these loops from the perspective of the the Farey graph for the torus, this set consists of the loops corresponding to vertices in one of the components that results from cutting the Farey graph along a certain edge. In the curve complex, train tricks define partitions that are almost as simple, though they are necessarily more complicated because there is no one simplex that separates separates the complex. Still, this type of partition comes in very useful for calculating distances in the curve complex (and was central to my recent preprint with Yoav Moriah) but to see how that works, we need something a bit stronger. In this post, I’ll explain how we can turn the partition defined by a train track into two sets of curves with a buffer between them. By placing these buffers next to each other, we can build larger gaps that imply a lower bound on the distance between certain loops in the curve complex.
A little over a year ago, I started writing a series of posts on train tracks and normal loops, then got distracted by other things. In the mean time, I wrote a paper with Yoav Moriah involving train tracks and curve complex distances, which gave me a whole new perspective on what train tracks really mean, more in line with much of Masur and Minsky’s work . So, I want to resuscitate the series of posts on train tracks, but in a slightly different direction than where I was headed before. I’ll start by looking at a very simple case: train tracks on a torus. If you need a review of what train tracks are (the mathematical object, not the literal ones), you can reread my earlier post.
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.
A few posts back, I defined normal loops in the triangulation of a surface and said I would use this idea to define train tracks on a surface. The key property of normal loops is that the normal arcs form parallel families and we can encode the topology of the curve by keeping track of how many parallel arcs are in each family. Train tracks encode loops in a surface in a very similar way. A train track is a union of bands in the surface (disks parameterized as ) with disjoint interiors, but that fit together along their horizontal sides. In other words, the top and bottom edges of each band are contained in the union of the horizontal edges of other bands. A picture of this is shown below the fold.
I plan to write a post or two about normal surfaces and branched surfaces in three-dimensional manifolds, but I want to warm up first, with two posts about the two-dimensional analogues of these objects. Train tracks play a huge role in the approach to the topology of surfaces initiated by Nielsen and Thurston, for understanding mapping class groups, Teichmuller space, laminations, etc. They organize the set of isotopy classes of simple closed curves in a surface in a way that allows one to take limits of infinite sequences of loops. (The limits are called projective measured laminations.) In this post and the next, I will discuss train tracks from a rather unusual perspective, via normal loops in a triangulation of the given surface.