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Today Jason Manning gave a talk on a vital ingredient in the proof of Agol’s theorem, which is a result in geometric group theory. The theorem is a joint project of Agol-Groves-Manning, and generalizes some earlier work they did a few years ago. Jason referred to the main theorem during his talk as the “Goal Theorem” (I guess it was the goal of his lecture), but I’m going to call it the *Weak Separation Theorem*, since that is a somewhat more descriptive name. The statement of the theorem is as follows.

**Weak Separation Theorem (Agol-Groves-Manning):** Let G be a hyperbolic group, let H be a subgroup of G which is quasiconvex, and isomorphic to the fundamental group of a virtually special NPC cube complex, and let g be an element of G which is not contained in H. Then there is a surjection so that

- is hyperbolic;
- is finite; and
- is not contained in .

In the remainder of this post I will try to explain the proof of this theorem, to the extent that I understand it. Basically, this amounts to my summarizing Manning’s talk (or the part of it that I managed to get down in my notes); again, any errors, foolishness, silly blog post titles etc. are due to me.

I am in Paris attending a workshop at the IHP where Ian Agol has just given the first of three talks outlining his proof of the Virtual Haken Conjecture and Virtual Fibration Conjecture in 3-manifold topology (hat tip to Henry Wilton at the Low Dimensional Topology blog from whom I first learned about Ian’s announcement last week). I think it is no ~~under ~~overstatement to say that this marks the end of an era in 3-manifold topology, since the proof ties up just about every loose end left over on the list of problems in 3-manifold topology from Thurston’s famous Bulletin article (with the exception of problem 23 — to show that volumes of closed hyperbolic 3-manifolds are not rationally related — which is very close to some famous open problems in number theory). The purpose of this blog post is to say what the Virtual Haken Conjecture is, and some of the background that goes into Ian’s argument. I hope to follow this up with more details in another post (after Agol gives talks 2 and 3 this coming Wednesday). Needless to say this post has been written in a bit of a hurry, and I have probably messed up some crucial details; but if that caveat is not enough to dissuade you, then read on.

The purpose of this blog post is to try to give some insight into the “meaning” of the Hall-Witt identity in group theory. This identity can look quite mysterious in its algebraic form, but there are several ways of describing it geometrically which are more natural and easier to understand.

If is a group, and are elements of , the commutator of and (denoted ) is the expression (note: algebraists tend to use the convention that instead). Commutators (as their name suggests) measure the failure of a pair of elements to commute, in the sense that . Since , the property of being a commutator is invariant under conjugation (here the superscript means conjugation by ; i.e. ; again, the algebraists use the opposite convention).

**1. Mostow Rigidity **

For hyperbolic surfaces, Moduli space is quite large and complicated. However, in three dimensions Moduli space is trivial:

Theorem 1If is a homotopy equivalence of closed hyperbolic manifolds with , then is homotopic to an isometry.

In other words, Moduli space is a single point.

This post will go through the proof of Mostow rigidity. Unfortunately, the proof just doesn’t work as well on paper as it does in person, especially in the later sections.

** 1.1. Part 1 **

First we need a definition familiar to geometric group theorists: a map between metric spaces (not necessarily Riemannian manifolds) is a *quasi-isometry* if for all , we have

Without the term, would be called *bilipschitz*.

First, we observe that if is a homotopy equivalence, then lifts to a map in the sense that is equivariant with respect to (thought of as the desk groups of and , so for all , we have .

Now suppose that and are hyperbolic. Then we can lift the Riemannian metric to the covers, so and are specific discrete subgroups in , and maps equivariantly with respect to and .

Lemma 2is a quasi-isometry.

*Proof:* Since is a homotopy equivalence, there is a such that . Perturbing slightly, we may assume that and are smooth, and as and are compact, there exists a constant such that and . In other words, paths in and are stretched by a factor of at most : for any path , . The same is true for going in the other direction, and because we can lift the metric, the same is true for the universal covers: for any path , , and similarly for .

Thus, for any in the universal cover ,

and

We see, then, that is Lipschitz in one direction. We only need the for the other side.

Since , we lift it to get an equivariant lift For any point , the homotopy between gives a path between and . Since this is a lift of the homotopy downstairs, this path must have bounded length, which we will call . Thus,

Putting these facts together, for any in ,

And

By the triangle inequality,

This is the left half of the quasi-isometry definition, so we have shown that is a quasi-isometry.

Notice that the above proof didn’t use anything hyperbolic—all we needed was that and are Lipschitz.

Our next step is to prove that a quasi-isometry of hyperbolic space extends to a continuous map on the boundary. The boundary of hyperbolic space is best thought of as the boundary of the disk in the Poincare model.

Lemma 3A quasi-isometry extends to a continuous map on the boundary .

The basic idea is that given a geodesic, it maps under to a path that is uniformly close to a geodesic, so we map the endpoints of the first geodesic to the endpoints of the second. We first need a sublemma:

Lemma 4Take a geodesic and two points and a distance apart on it. Draw two perpendicular geodesic segments of length from and . Draw a line between the endpoints of these segments such that has constant distance from the geodesic. Then the length of is linear in and exponential in .

*Proof:* Here is a representative picture:

So we see that . By Gauss-Bonnet,

Where the on the left is the sum of the turning angles, and is the geodesic curvature of the segment . What is this geodesic curvature ? If we imagine increasing , then the derivative of the length with respect to is the geodesic curvature times the length , i.e.

So . Therefore, by the Gauss-Bonnet equality,

so . Therefore, , which proves the lemma

With this lemma in hand, we move on the next sublemma:

Lemma 5If is a quasi-isometry, there is a constant depending only on and such that for all on the geodesic from to in , is distance less than from any geodesic from to .

*Proof:* Fix some , and suppose the image of the geodesic from to goes outside a neighborhood of the geodesic from to . That is, there is some segment on between the points and such that maps completely outside the neighborhood.

Let’s look at the nearest point projection from to . By the above lemma, . Thus means that

On the other hand, because is a quasi-isometry,

and

So we have

Which implies that

That is, the length of the offending path is uniformly bounded. Thus, increase by times this length plus , and every offending path will now be inside the new neighborhood of .

The last lemma says that the image under of a geodesic segment is uniformly close to an actual geodesic. Now suppose that we have an infinite geodesic in . Take geodesic segments with endpoints going off to infinity. There is a subsequence of the endpoints converging to a pair on the boundary. This is because the visual distance between successive pairs of endspoints goes to zero. That is, we have extended to a map , where is the diagonal . This map is actually continuous, since by the same argument geodesics with endpoints visually close map (uniformly close) to geodesics with visually close endpoints.

** 1.2. Part 2 **

Now we know that a quasi-isometry extends continuously to the boundary of hyperbolic space. We will end up showing that is conformal, which will give us the theorem.

We now introduce the Gromov norm. if is a topological space, then singular chain complex is a real vector space with basis the continuous maps . We define a norm on as the norm:

This defines a pseudonorm (the Gromov norm) on by:

This (pseudo) norm has some nice properties:

Lemma 6If is continuous, and , then .

*Proof:* If represents , then represents .

Thus, we see that if is a homotopy equivalence, then .

If is a closed orientable manifold, then we define the Gromov norm of to be the Gromov norm .

Here is an example: if admits a self map of degree , then . This is because we can let represent , so , so represents . Thus . Notice that we can repeat the composition with to get that is as small as we’d like, so it must be zero.

Theorem 7 (Gromov)Let be a closed oriented hyperbolic -manifold. Then . Where is a constant depending only on .

We now go through the proof of this theorem. First, we need to know how to straighten chains:

Lemma 8There is a map (the second complex is totally geodesic simplices) which is -equivariant and – equivariantly homotopic to .

*Proof:* In the hyperboloid model, we imagine a simplex mapping in to . In , we can connect its vertices with straight lines, faces, etc. These project to being totally geodesics in the hyperboloid. We can move the original simplex to this straightened one via linear homotopy in ; now project this homotopy to .

Now, if represents , then we can straighten the simplices, so represents , and , so when finding the Gromov norm it suffices to consider geodesic simplices. Notice that every point has finitely many preimages, and total degree is 1, so for any point , .

Next, we observe:

Lemma 9If given a chain , there is a collection such that and is a cycle homologous to .

*Proof:* We are looking at a real vector space of coefficients, and the equations defining what it means to be a cycle are rational. Rational points are therefore dense in it.

By the lemma, there is an integral cycle , where is some constant. We create a simplicial complex by gluing these simplices together, and this complex comes together with a map to . Make it smooth. Now by the fact above, , so . Then

on the one hand, and on the other hand,

The volume on the right is at most , the volume of an ideal simplex, so we have that

i.e.

This gives the lower bound in the theorem. To get an upper bound, we need to exhibit a chain representing with all the simplices mapping with degree 1, such that the volume of each image simplex is at least .

We now go through the construction of this chain. Set , and fix a fundamental domain for , so is tiled by translates of . Let be the set of all simplices with side lengths with vertices in a particular -tuple of fundamental domains . Pick to be a geodesic simplex with vertices , and let be the image of under the projection. This only depends on up to the deck group of .

Now define the chain:

With the to make it orientation-preserving, and where is an -invariant measure on the space of regular simplices of side length . If the diameter of is every simplex with has edge length in , so:

- The volume of each simplex is if is large enough.
- is finite — fix a fundamental domain; then there are only finitely many other fundamental domains in .

Therefore, we just need to know that is a cycle representing : to see this, observe that every for every face of every simplex, there is an equal weight assigned to a collection of simplices on the front and back of the face, so the boundary is zero.

By the equality above, then,

Taking to zero, we get the theorem.

** 1.3. Part 3 (Finishing the proof of Mostow Rigidity **

We know that for all , there is a cycle representing such that every simplex is geodesic with side lengths in , and the simplices are almost equi-distributed. Now, if , and represents , then represents , as is a homotopy equivalence.

We know that extends to a map . Suppose that there is an tuple in which is the vertices of an ideal regular simplex. The map takes (almost) regular simplices arbitrarily close to this regular ideal simplex to other almost regular simplices close to an ideal regular simplex. That is, takes regular ideal simplices to regular ideal simplices. Visualizing in the upper half space model for dimension 3, pick a regular ideal simplex with one vertex at infinity. Its vertices form an equilateral triangle in the plane, and takes this triangle to another equilateral triangle. We can translate this simplex around by the set of reflections in its faces, and this gives us a dense set of equilateral triangles being sent to equilateral triangles. This implies that is conformal on the boundary. This argument works as long as the boundary sphere is at least 2 dimensional, so this works as long as is 3-dimensional.

Now, as is conformal on the boundary, it is a conformal map on the disk, and thus it is an isometry. Translating, this means that the map conjugating the deck group to is an isometry of , so is actually an isometry, as desired. The proof is now complete.

I am (update: was) currently (update: but am no longer) in Brisbane for the “New directions in geometric group theory” conference, which has been an entirely enjoyable and educational experience. I got to eat fish and chips, to watch Australia make 520 for 7 (declared) against the West Indies at the WACA, and to hear Masato Mimura give a very nice talk about his recent results on rigidity of the “universal lattice”.

His talk included a quick and beautiful survey of some geometric aspects of the theory of rigidity for infinite groups, which I will attempt to partially reproduce (despite the limitations of the wordpress format). In this context, rigidity is expressed in terms of isometric affine actions of groups on Banach spaces. This means the following. Suppose is a Banach space (i.e. a complete, normed vector space) and is a group. A *linear* isometric action is a representation from to the group of linear isometries of — i.e. linear norm-preserving automorphisms. An *affine* action is a representation from to the group of *affine* isometries of — i.e. isometries as a metric space that do not necessarily fix the zero element. The group of isometries of a Banach space is a semi-direct product where is the group of linear isometries, and is the Banach space, thought of as an Abelian group, acting on itself by (isometric) translations. Such an action is usually encoded by a pair which records the “linear” part of the action, and a 1-*cocycle* with coefficients in , i.e. a function satisfying for every . This formula might look strange if you don’t know where it comes from: it is just the way that factors transform in semi-direct products. The affine action is given by sending to the transformation that sends each to . Consequently, is sent to the transformation that sends to and the fact that this is a group action becomes the formula

Equating the left and right hand sides gives the cocycle condition. Given one affine isometric action, one can obtain another in a silly way by conjugating by an isometry for some . Under conjugation by such an isometry, a cocycle transforms by . A function of the form is called a 1-*coboundary*, and the quotient of the space of 1-cocycles by the space of 1-coboundaries is the 1 dimensional cohomology of *with coefficients in* . This is usually denoted , where is suppressed in the notation. In particular, an affine isometric action of on with linear part has a global fixed point iff it represents in . Contrapositively, admits an affine isometric action on without a global fixed point iff for some .

A group is said to satisfy *Serre’s Property (FH) *if every affine isometric action of on a Hilbert space has a global fixed point. In 2007, Bader-Furman-Gelander-Monod introduced a property (FB) for a group to mean that every affine isometric action of on some (out of a class of) Banach space(s) has a global fixed point. Mimura used the notation property (FL_p) for the case that is allowed to range over the class of spaces (for some fixed ).

Intimately related is Kazhdan’s Property (T), introduced by Kazhdan in this paper. Let be a locally compact topological group (for example, a discrete group). The set of irreducible unitary representations of is called its *dual*, and denoted . This dual is topologized in the following way. Associated to a representation , a unit vector , a positive number and a compact subset there is an open neighborhood of consisting of representations for which there is a unit vector such that whenever . With this topology (called the *Fell topology*), one says that a group has property (T) if the trivial representation is isolated in . Note that this topology is very far from being Hausdorff: the trivial representation fails to be isolated exactly when there are a sequence of representations , unit vectors , numbers and compact sets exhausting so that for any . The vectors are said to be (a sequence of) *almost invariant vectors*. Hence (informally) a group has property (T) if some compact subset must move some unit vector a definite amount in every irreducible nontrivial unitary representation. If a group fails to have property (T), one can rescale a sequence of irreducible actions near a sequence of almost invariant vectors in such a way that one obtains in the geometric limit a nontrivial isometric action on without a global fixed point. A famous theorem of Delorme-Guichardet says that property (T) and property (FH) are *equivalent* for (locally compact second countable) groups. Property (T) passes to quotients, and to lattices (i.e. finite covolume discrete subgroups of a topological group). Kazhdan already showed in his paper that has property (T) for at least , and therefore the same is true for lattices in this groups, such as , a fact which is not easy to see directly from the definition. One beautiful application, already pointed out by Kazhdan, is that this means that all lattices in , for instance the groups (and in fact, all discrete groups with property (T)) are finitely generated. Kazhdan’s proof of this is incredibly short: let be a discrete group and and sequence of elements. For each , let be the subgroup of generated by . Notice that is finitely generated iff for all sufficiently large . On the other hand, consider the unitary representations of induced by the trivial representations on the . Every compact subset of is finite, and therefore eventually fixes a vector in every one of these representations; thus there is a sequence of almost fixed vectors. If has property (T), this sequence eventually contains a fixed vector, which can only happen if is finite, in which case is finitely generated, as claimed.

Property (FL_p) generalizes (FH) (equivalently (T)) in many significant ways, with interesting applications to dynamics. For example, Navas showed that if is a group with property (T) then every action of on a circle which is at least factors through a finite group. Navas’s argument can be generalized straightforwardly to show that if has (FL_p) for some then every action of on a circle which is at least factors through a finite group. The proof rests on a beautiful construction due to Reznikov (although a similar construction can be found in Pressley-Segal) of certain functions on a configuration space of the circle which are not in but have coboundaries which are; this gives rise to nontrivial cohomology with coefficients for groups acting on the circle in a sufficiently interesting way.

(Update: Nicolas Monod points out in an email that the “function on a configuration space” is morally just the derivative. In fact, he made the nice remark that if is any elliptic operator on an -manifold, then the commutator is of Schatten class whenever is a sufficiently smooth function; morally this should give rise to nontrivial cohomology with suitable coefficients for groups acting with enough regularity on any given -manifold, and one would like to use this e.g. to approach Zimmer’s conjecture, but nobody seems to know how to make this work as yet; in fact the work of Monod et. al. on (FL_p) is at least partly motivated by this general picture.)

Mimura discussed a spectrum of rigid behaviour for infinite groups, ranging from most rigid (property (FL_p) for every ) to least rigid (amenable) (note: every finite group is both amenable and has property (T), so this only really makes sense for infinite groups; moreover, every reasonable measure of rigidity for infinite groups is usually invariant under passing to subgroups of finite index). Free groups, and so on are very non-rigid. However, it is well-known that certain infinite families of (word) hyperbolic groups, including lattices in groups of isometries of quaternion-hyperbolic symmetric spaces, and “random” groups with relations having density parameter (see Zuk or Ollivier) are both hyperbolic and have property (T). Nevertheless, these groups are not as rigid as higher rank lattices like for . The latter have property (FL_p) for every , whereas Yu showed that *every* hyperbolic group admits a proper affine isometric action on for some (the existence of a proper affine isometric action on a Hilbert space is called “a-T-menability” by Gromov, and the “Haagerup property” by some. Groups satisfying this property, or even Yu’s weaker property, are known to satisfy some version of the Baum-Connes conjecture, the subject of a very nice minicourse by Graham Niblo at the same conference).

It is in this context that one can appreciate Mimura’s results. His first main result is that the group (i.e. the “universal lattice”) has property (FL_p) for every provided is at least 4. Since property (FL_p) (like (T)) passes to quotients, this implies that has (FL_p) for every unital, commutative, finitely generated ring .

His second main result concerns a “quasification” of FL_p, to a property called (FFL_p). Without getting too technical, this property concerns “quasi-actions” of a group on a Banach space by affine isometries; algebraically these are encoded by 1-cochains for which there is a universal constant so that as measured in the Banach norm on . Any bounded map defines a 1-cochain; such (bounded) 1-cochains corresponds to quasi-action with a bounded orbit. Associated to one defines in a similar way a complex of bounded cochains; quasi-actions modulo bounded quasi-actions are parameterized by the kernel of the comparison map from bounded to ordinary cohomology. Mimura’s second main result is that when is the universal lattice as above, and has no invariant vectors, the comparison map from bounded to ordinary cohomology in dimension 2 is injective.

The fact that as above is required to have no invariant vectors is a technical necessity of Mimura’s proof. When is trivial, one is studying “ordinary” bounded cohomology, and there is an exact sequence

with real coefficients for any (here denotes the vector space of homogeneous quasimorphisms on ). In this context, one knows by Bavard duality that is injective if and only if the *stable commutator length* is identically zero on . By quite a different method, Mimura shows that for at least , and for any Euclidean ring (i.e. a ring for which one has a Euclidean algorithm; for example, ) the group has vanishing stable commutator length, and therefore one has injectivity of bounded to ordinary cohomology in dimension .

**(Update 1/9/2010):** Nicholas Monod sent me a nice email commenting on a couple of points in this blog entry, and I have consequently modified the language a bit in a few places. Ta much!

Last Friday, Henry Wilton gave a talk at Caltech about his recent joint work with Sang-hyun Kim on polygonal words in free groups. Their work is motivated by the following well-known question of Gromov:

**Question(Gromov):** Let be a one-ended word-hyperbolic group. Does contain a subgroup isomorphic to the fundamental group of a closed hyperbolic surface?

Let me briefly say what “one-ended” and “word-hyperbolic” mean.

A group is said to be word-hyperbolic if it acts properly and cocompactly by isometries on a proper -hyperbolic path metric space — i.e. a path metric space in which there is a constant so that geodesic triangles in the metric space have the property that each side of the triangle is contained in the -neighborhood of the union of the other two sides (colloquially, triangles are *thin*). This condition distills the essence of negative curvature in the large, and was shown by Gromov to be equivalent to several other conditions (eg. that the group satisfies a linear isoperimetric inequality; that every ultralimit of the group is an -tree). Free groups are hyperbolic; fundamental groups of closed manifolds with negative sectional curvature (eg surfaces with negative Euler characteristic) are word-hyperbolic; “random” groups are hyperbolic — and so on. In fact, it is an open question whether a group that admits a finite is word hyperbolic if and only if it does not contain a copy of a Baumslag-Solitar group for (note that the group is the special case ); in any case, this is a very good heuristic for identifying the word-hyperbolic groups one typically meets in examples.

If is a finitely generated group, the *ends* of really means the ends (as defined by Freudenthal) of the Cayley graph of with respect to some finite generating set. Given a proper topological space , the set of compact subsets of gives rise to an inverse system of inclusions, where includes into whenever is a subset of . This inverse system defines an inverse system of maps of discrete spaces , and the inverse limit of this system is a compact, totally disconnected space , called the *space of ends* of . A proper topological space is canonically compactified by its set of ends; in fact, the compactification is the “biggest” compactification of by a totally disconnected space, in the sense that for any other compactification where is zero dimensional, there is a continuous map which is the identity on .

For a word-hyperbolic group , the Cayley graph can be compactified by adding the *ideal boundary* , but this is typically not totally disconnected. In this case, the ends of can be recovered as the components of .

A group acts on its own ends . An elementary argument shows that the cardinality of is one of (if a compact set disconnects then infinitely many translates of converging to separate from infinitely many other ends accumulating on ). A group has no ends if and only if it is finite. Stallings famously showed that a (finitely generated) group has at least ends if and only if it admits a nontrivial description as an HNN extension or amalgamated free product over a finite group. One version of the argument proceeds more or less as follows, at least when is finitely presented. Let be an -dimensional Riemannian manifold with fundamental group , and let denote the universal cover. We can identify the ends of with the ends of . Let be a least (-dimensional) area hypersurface in amongst all hypersurfaces that separate some end from some other (here the hypothesis that has at least two ends is used). Then every translate of by an element of is either equal to or disjoint from it, or else one could use the Meeks-Yau “roundoff trick” to find a new with strictly lower area than . The translates of decompose into pieces, and one can build a tree whose vertices correspond to to components of , and whose edges correspond to the translates . The group acts on this tree, with finite edge stabilizers (by the compactness of ), exhibiting either as an HNN extension or an amalgamated product over the edge stabilizers. Note that the special case occurs if and only if has a finite index subgroup which is isomorphic to .

Free groups and virtually free groups do not contain closed surface subgroups; Gromov’s question more or less asks whether these are the only examples of word-hyperbolic groups with this property.

Kim and Wilton study Gromov’s question in a very, very concrete case, namely that case that is the double of a free group along a word ; i.e. (hereafter denoted ). Such groups are known to be one-ended if and only if is not contained in a proper free factor of (it is clear that this condition is necessary), and to be hyperbolic if and only if is not a proper power, by a result of Bestvina-Feighn. To see that this condition is necessary, observe that the double is isomorphic to the fundamental group of a Seifert fiber space, with base space a disk with two orbifold points of order ; such a group contains a . One might think that such groups are too simple to give an insight into Gromov’s question. However, these groups (or perhaps the slightly larger class of graphs of free groups with cyclic edge groups) are a critical case for at least two reasons:

- The “smaller” a group is, the less room there is inside it for a surface group; thus the “simplest” groups should have the best chance of being a counterexample to Gromov’s question.
- If is word-hyperbolic and one-ended, one can try to find a surface subgroup by first looking for a graph of free groups in , and then looking for a surface group in . Since a closed surface group is itself a graph of free groups, one cannot “miss” any surface groups this way.

Not too long ago, I found an interesting construction of surface groups in certain graphs of free groups with cyclic edge groups. In fact, I showed that every nontrivial element of in such a group is virtually represented by a sum of surface subgroups. Such surface subgroups are obtained by finding maps of surface groups into which minimize the Gromov norm in their (projective) homology class. I think it is useful to extend Gromov’s question by making the following

**Conjecture:** Let be a word-hyperbolic group, and let be nonzero. Then some multiple of is represented by a norm-minimizing surface (which is necessarily -injective).

Note that this conjecture does not generalize to wider classes of groups. There are even examples of groups with nonzero homology classes with positive, rational Gromov norm, for which there are no -injective surfaces representing a multiple of at all.

It is time to define polygonal words in free groups.

**Definition:** Let be free. Let be a wedge of circles whose edges are free generators for . A cyclically reduced word in these generators is *polygonal* if there exists a van-Kampen graph on a surface such that:

- every complementary region is a disk whose boundary is a nontrivial (possibly negative) power of ;
- the (labelled) graph immerses in in a label preserving way;
- the Euler characteristic of is strictly less than the number of disks.

The last condition rules out trivial examples; for example, the double of a single disk whose boundary is labeled by . Notice that it is very important to allow both positive and negative powers of as boundaries of complementary regions. In fact, if is not in the commutator subgroup, then the sum of the powers over all complementary regions is necessarily zero (and if is in the commutator subgroup, then has nontrivial , so one already knows that there is a surface subgroup).

Condition 2. means that at each vertex of , there is at most one oriented label corresponding to each generator of or its inverse. This is really the crucial geometric property. If is a van-Kampen graph as above, then a theorem of Marshall Hall implies that there is a finite cover of into which embeds (in fact, this observation underlies Stallings’s work on foldings of graphs). If we build a -complex with by attaching two ends of a cylinder to suitable loops in two copies of , then a tubular neighborhood of in (i.e. what is sometimes called a “fatgraph” ) embeds in a finite cover of , and its double — a surface of strictly negative Euler characteristic — embeds as a closed surface in , and is therefore -injective. Hence if is polygonal, contains a surface subgroup.

Not every word is polygonal. Kim-Wilton discuss some interesting examples in their paper, including:

- suppose is a cyclically reduced product of proper powers of the generators or their inverses (e.g a word like but not a word like ); then is polygonal;
- a word of the form is polygonal if for each ;
- the word is
*not*polygonal.

To see 3, suppose there were a van-Kampen diagram with more disks than Euler characteristic. Then there must be some vertex of valence at least . Since is positive, the complementary regions must have boundaries which alternate between positive and negative powers of , so the degree of the vertex must be even. On the other hand, since must immerse in a wedge of two circles, the degree of every vertex must be at most , so there is consequently some vertex of degree exactly . Since each is isolated, at least edges must be labelled ; hence exactly two. Hence exactly two edges are labelled . But one of these must be incoming and one outgoing, and therefore these are adjacent, contrary to the fact that does not contain a .

1 above is quite striking to me. When is in the commutator subgroup, one can consider van-Kampen diagrams as above without the injectivity property, but with the property that every power of on the boundary of a disk is *positive*; call such a van-Kampen diagram *monotone*. It turns out that monotone van-Kampen diagrams always exist when , and in fact that norm-minimizing surfaces representing powers of the generator of are associated to certain monotone diagrams. The construction of such surfaces is an important step in the argument that stable commutator length (a kind of relative Gromov norm) is rational in free groups. In my paper scl, sails and surgery I showed that monomorphisms of free groups that send every generator to a power of that generator induce isometries of the norm; in other words, there is a natural correspondence between certain equivalence classes of monotone surfaces for an arbitrary word in and for a word of the kind that Kim-Wilton show is polygonal (Note: Henry Wilton tells me that Brady, Forester and Martinez-Pedroza have independently shown that contains a surface group for such , but I have not seen their preprint (though I would be very grateful to get a copy!)).

In any case, if not every word is polygonal, all is not lost. To show that contains a surface subgroup is suffices to show that contains a surface subgroup, where and differ by an automorphism of . Kim-Wilton conjecture that one can always find an automorphism so that is polygonal. In fact, they make the following:

**Conjecture (Kim-Wilton; tiling conjecture):** A word not contained in a proper free factor of shortest length (in a given generating set) in its orbit under is polygonal.

If true, this would give a positive answer to Gromov’s question for groups of the form .

Last week, Michael Brandenbursky from the Technion gave a talk at Caltech on an interesting connection between knot theory and quasimorphisms. Michael’s paper on this subject may be obtained from the arXiv. Recall that given a group , a quasimorphism is a function for which there is some least real number (called the *defect*) such that for all pairs of elements there is an inequality . Bounded functions are quasimorphisms, although in an uninteresting way, so one is usually only interested in quasimorphisms up to the equivalence relation that if the difference is bounded. It turns out that each equivalence class of quasimorphism contains a unique representative which has the extra property that for all and . Such quasimorphisms are said to be *homogeneous*. Any quasimorphism may be *homogenized* by defining (see e.g. this post for more about quasimorphisms, and their relation to stable commutator length).

Many groups that do not admit many homomorphisms to nevertheless admit rich families of homogeneous quasimorphisms. For example, groups that act weakly properly discontinuously on word-hyperbolic spaces admit infinite dimensional families of homogeneous quasimorphisms; see e.g. Bestvina-Fujiwara. This includes hyperbolic groups, but also mapping class groups and braid groups, which act on the complex of curves.

Michael discussed another source of quasimorphisms on braid groups, those coming from knot theory. Let be a knot invariant. Then one can extend to an invariant of pure braids on strands by where , and the “hat” denotes plat closure. It is an interesting question to ask: under what conditions on is the resulting function on braid groups a quasimorphism?

In the abstract, such a question is probably very hard to answer, so one should narrow the question by concentrating on knot invariants of a certain kind. Since one wants the resulting invariants to have some relation to the algebraic structure of braid groups, it is natural to look for functions which factor through certain algebraic structures on knots; Michael was interested in certain *homomorphisms* from the *knot concordance group* to . We briefly describe this group, and a natural class of homomorphisms.

Two oriented knots in the -sphere are said to be *concordant* if there is a (locally flat) properly embedded annulus in with and . Concordance is an equivalence relation, and the equivalence classes form a group, with connect sum as the group operation, and orientation-reversed mirror image as inverse. The only subtle aspect of this is the existence of inverses, which we briefly explain. Let be an arbitrary knot, and let denote the mirror image of with the opposite orientation. Arrange in space so that they are symmetric with respect to reflection in a dividing plane. There is an immersed annulus in which connects each point on to its mirror image on , and the self-intersections of this annulus are all disjoint embedded arcs, corresponding to the crossings of in the projection to the mirror. This annulus is an example of what is called a *ribbon* surface. Connect summing to by pushing out a finger of each into an arc in the mirror connects the ribbon annulus to a ribbon disk spanning . A ribbon surface (in particular, a ribbon disk) can be pushed into a (smoothly) embedded surface in a -ball bounding . Puncturing the -ball at some point on this smooth surface, one obtains a concordance from to the unknot, as claimed.

The resulting group is known as the *concordance group* of knots. Since connect sum is commutative, this group is abelian. Notice as above that a *slice* knot — i.e. a knot bounding a locally flat disk in the -ball — is concordant to the unknot. Ribbon knots (those bounding ribbon disks) are smoothly slice, and therefore slice, and therefore concordant to the trivial knot. Concordance makes sense for codimension two knots in any dimension. In higher even dimensions, knots are always slice, and in higher odd dimensions, Levine found an algebraic description of the concordance groups in terms of (Witt) equivalence classes of linking pairings on a Seifert surface; (some of) this information is contained in the *signature* of a knot.

Let be a knot (in for simplicity) with Seifert surface of genus . If are loops in , define to be the linking number of with , which is obtained from by pushing it to the positive side of . The function is a bilinear form on , and after choosing generators, it can be expressed in terms of a matrix (called the *Seifert matrix* of ). The *signature* of , denoted , is the signature (in the usual sense) of the symmetric matrix . Changing the orientation of a knot does not affect the signature, whereas taking mirror image multiplies it by . Moreover, if are Seifert surfaces for , one can form a Seifert surface for for which there is some sphere that intersects in a separating arc, so that the pieces on either side of the sphere are isotopic to the , and therefore the Seifert matrix of can be chosen to be block diagonal, with one block for each of the Seifert matrices of the ; it follows that . In fact it turns out that is a *homomorphism* from to ; equivalently (by the arguments above), it is zero on knots which are topologically slice. To see this, suppose bounds a locally flat disk in the -ball. The union is an embedded bicollared surface in the -ball, which bounds a -dimensional Seifert “surface” whose interior may be taken to be disjoint from . Now, it is a well-known fact that for any oriented -manifold , the inclusion induces a map whose kernel is *Lagrangian* (with respect to the usual symplectic pairing on of an oriented surface). Geometrically, this means we can find a basis for the homology of (which is equal to the homology of ) for which half of the basis elements bound -chains in . Let be obtained by pushing off in the positive direction. Then chains in and chains in are disjoint (since and are disjoint) and therefore the Seifert matrix of has a block form for which the lower right block is identically zero. It follows that also has a zero lower right block, and therefore its signature is zero.

The Seifert matrix (and therefore the signature), like the Alexander polynomial, is sensitive to the structure of the first homology of the universal abelian cover of ; equivalently, to the structure of the maximal metabelian quotient of . More sophisticated “twisted” and signatures can be obtained by studying further derived subgroups of as modules over group rings of certain solvable groups with torsion-free abelian factors (the so-called *poly-torsion-free-abelian* groups). This was accomplished by Cochran-Orr-Teichner, who used these methods to construct infinitely many new concordance invariants.

The end result of this discussion is the existence of many, many interesting homomorphisms from the knot concordance group to the reals, and by plat closure, many interesting invariants of braids. The connection with quasimorphisms is the following:

**Theorem**(Brandenbursky): A homomorphism gives rise to a quasimorphism on braid groups if there is a constant so that , where denotes -ball genus.

The proof is roughly the following: given pure braids one forms the knots , and . It is shown that the connect sum bounds a Seifert surface whose genus may be universally bounded in terms of the number of strands in the braid group. Pushing this Seifert surface into the -ball, the hypothesis of the theorem says that is uniformly bounded on . Properties of then give an estimate for the defect; qed.

It would be interesting to connect these observations up to other “natural” chiral, homogeneous invariants on mapping class groups. For example, associated to a braid or mapping class one can (usually) form a hyperbolic -manifold which fibers over the circle, with fiber and monodromy . The -invariant of is the signature defect where is a -manifold with with a product metric near the boundary, and is the first Pontriagin form on (expressed in terms of the curvature of the metric). Is a quasimorphism on some subgroup of (eg on a subgroup consisting entirely of pseudo-Anosov elements)?

## Hyperbolic Geometry (157b) Notes #1

April 8, 2010 in Commentary, Euclidean Geometry, Groups, Hyperbolic geometry, Lie groups, Overview, Visualization | by aldenwalker | 5 comments

I am Alden, one of Danny’s students. Error/naivete that may (will) be found here is mine. In these posts, I will attempt to give notes from Danny’s class on hyperbolic geometry (157b). This first post covers some models for hyperbolic space.

1. ModelsWe have a very good natural geometric understanding of , i.e. 3-space with the euclidean metric. Pretty much all of our geometric and topological intuition about manifolds (Riemannian or not) comes from finding some reasonable way to embed or immerse them (perhaps locally) in . Let us look at some examples of 2-manifolds.

The Tractrix

The surface of revolution about the -axis is the pseudosphere, an isometric embedding of a surface of constant curvature -1. Like the sphere, there are some isometries of the pseudosphere that we can understand as isometries of , namely rotations about the -axis. However, there are lots of isometries which do not extend, so this embeddeding does not serve us all that well.

2. 1-Dimensional Models for Hyperbolic SpaceWhile studying 1-dimensional hyperbolic space might seem simplistic, there are nice models such that higher dimensions are simple generalizations of the 1-dimensional case, and we have such a dimensional advantage that our understanding is relatively easy.

2.1. Hyperboloid ModelParameterizingConsider the quadratic form on defined by , where . This doesn’t give a norm, since is not positive definite, but we can still ask for the set of points with . This is (both sheets of) the hyperbola . Let be the upper sheet of the hyperbola. This will be 1-dimensional hyperbolic space.

For any matrix , let . That is, matrices which preserve the form given by . The condition is equivalent to requiring that . Notice that if we let be the identity matrix, we would get the regular orthogonal group. We define , where has positive eigenvalues and negative eigenvalues. Thus . We similarly define to be matricies of determinant 1 preserving , and to be the connected component of the identity. is then the group of matrices preserving both orientation and the sheets of the hyperbolas.

We can find an explicit form for the elements of . Consider the matrix . Writing down the equations and gives us four equations, which we can solve to get the solutions

Since we are interested in the connected component of the identity, we discard the solution on the right. It is useful to do a change of variables , so we have (recall that ).

These matrices take to . In other words, acts transitively on with trivial stabilizers, and in particular we have parmeterizing maps

The first map is actually a Lie group isomorphism (with the group action on being ) in addition to a diffeomorphism, since

MetricAs mentioned above, is not positive definite, but its restriction to the tangent space of is. We can see this in the following way: tangent vectors at a point are characterized by the form . Specifically, , since (by a calculation) . Therefore, takes tangent vectors to tangent vectors and preserves the form (and is transitive), so we only need to check that the form is positive definite on one tangent space. This is obvious on the tangent space to the point . Thus, is a Riemannian manifold, and acts by isometries.

Let’s use the parameterization . The unit (in the metric) tangent at is . The distance between the points and is

In other words, is an isometry from to .

1-dimensional hyperbollic space. The hyperboloid model is shown in blue, and the projective model is shown in red. An example of the projection map identifying with is shown.

2.2. Projective ModelParameterizingReal projective space is the set of lines through the origin in . We can think about as , where is associated with the line (point in ) intersecting in , and is the horizontal line. There is a natural projection by projecting a point to the line it is on. Under this projection, maps to .

Since acts on preserving the lines , it gives a projective action on fixing the points . Now suppose we have any projective linear isomorphism of fixing . The isomorphism is represented by a matrix with eigenvectors . Since scaling preserves its projective class, we may assume it has determinant 1. Its eigenvalues are thus and . The determinant equation, plus the fact that

Implies that is of the form of a matrix in . Therefore, the projective linear structure on is the “same” (has the same isometry (isomorphism) group) as the hyperbolic (Riemannian) structure on .

MetricClearly, we’re going to use the pushforward metric under the projection of to , but it turns out that this metric is a natural choice for other reasons, and it has a nice expression.

The map taking to is . The hyperbolic distance between and in is then (by the fact from the previous sections that is an isometry).

Recall the fact that . Applying this, we get the nice form

We also recall the cross ratio, for which we fix notation as . Then

Call the numerator of that fraction by and the denominator by . Then, recalling that , we have

Therefore, .

3. Hilbert MetricNotice that the expression on the right above has nothing, a priori, to do with the hyperbolic projection. In fact, for any open convex body in , we can define the Hilbert metric on by setting , where and are the intersections of the line through and with the boundary of . How is it possible to take the cross ratio, since are not numbers? The line containing all of them is projectively isomorphic to , which we can parameterize as . The cross ratio does not depend on the choice of parameterization, so it is well defined. Note that the Hilbert metric is not necessarily a Riemannian metric, but it does make any open convex set into a metric space.

Therefore, we see that any open convex body in has a natural metric, and the hyperbolic metric in agrees with this metric when is thought of as a open convex set in .

4. Higher-Dimensional Hyperbolic Space4.1. HyperboloidThe higher dimensional hyperbolic spaces are completely analogous to the 1-dimensional case. Consider with the basis and the 2-form . This is the form defined by the matrix . Define to be the positive (positive in the direction) sheet of the hyperbola .

Let be the linear transformations preserving the form, so . This group is generated by as symmetries of the plane, together with as symmetries of the span of the (this subspace is euclidean). The group is the set of orientation preserving elements of which preserve the positive sheet of the hyperboloid (). This group acts transitively on with point stabilizers : this is easiest to see by considering the point . Here the stabilizer is clearly , and because acts transitively, any stabilizer is a conjugate of this.

As in the 1-dimensional case, the metric on is , which is invariant under .

Geodesics in can be understood by consdering the fixed point sets of isometries, which are always totally geodesic. Here, reflection in a vertical (containing ) plane restricts to an (orientation-reversing, but that’s ok) isometry of , and the fixed point set is obviously the intersection of this plane with . Now is transitive on , and it sends planes to planes in , so we have a bijection

{Totally geodesic subspaces through } {linear subspaces of through }

By considering planes through , we can see that these totally geodesic subspaces are isometric to lower dimensional hyperbolic spaces.

4.2. ProjectiveAnalogously, we define the projective model as follows: consider the disk . I.e. the points in the plane inside the cone . We can think of as , so this disk is . There is, as before, the natural projection of to , and the pushforward of the hyperbolic metric agrees with the Hilbert metric on as an open convex body in .

Geodesics in the projective model are the intersections of planes in with ; that is, they are geodesics in the euclidean space spanned by the . One interesting consequence of this is that any theorem which is true in euclidean geometry which does not reply on facts about angles is still true for hyperbolic space. For example, Pappus’ hexagon theorem, the proof of which does not use angles, is true.

4.3. Projective Model in Dimension 2In the case that , we can understand the projective isomorphisms of by looking at their actions on the boundary . The set is projectively isomorphic to as an abstract manifold, but it should be noted that is not a straight line in , which would be the most natural way to find ‘s embedded in .

In addition, any projective isomorphism of can be extended to a real projective isomorphism of . In other words, we can understand isometries of 2-dimensional hyperbolic space by looking at the action on the boundary. Since is not a straight line, the extension is not trivial. We now show how to do this.

The automorphisms of are . We will consider . For any Lie group , there is an Adjoint action defined by (the derivative of) conjugation. We can similarly define an adjoint action by the Lie algebra on itself, as for any path with . If the tangent vectors and are matrices, then .

We can define the Killing form on the Lie algebra by . Note that is a matrix, so this makes sense, and the Lie group acts on the tangent space (Lie algebra) preserving this form.

Now let’s look at specifically. A basis for the tangent space (Lie algebra) is , , and . We can check that , , and . Using these relations plus the antisymmetry of the Lie bracket, we know

Therefore, the matrix for the Killing form in this basis is

This matrix has 2 positive eigenvalues and one negative eigenvalue, so its signature is . Since acts on preserving this form, we have , otherwise known at the group of isometries of the disk in projective space , otherwise known as .

Any element of (which, recall, was acting on the boundary of projective hyperbolic space ) therefore extends to an element of , the isometries of hyperbolic space, i.e. we can extend the action over the disk.

This means that we can classify isometries of 2-dimensional hyperbolic space by what they do to the boundary, which is determined generally by their eigevectors ( acts on by projecting the action on , so an eigenvector of a matrix corresponds to a fixed line in , so a fixed point in . For a matrix , we have the following:

5. Complex Hyperbolic SpaceWe can do a construction analogous to real hyperbolic space over the complexes. Define a Hermitian form on with coordinates by . We will also refer to as . The (complex) matrix for this form is , where . Complex linear isomorphisms preserving this form are matrices such that . This is our definition for , and we define to be those elements of with determinant of norm 1.

The set of points such that is not quite what we are looking for: first it is a real dimensional manifold (not as we would like for whatever our definition of “complex hyperbolic space” is), but more importantly, does not restrict to a positive definite form on the tangent spaces. Call the set of points where by . Consider a point in and in . As with the real case, by the fact that is in the tangent space,

Because is hermitian, the expression on the right does not mean that , but it does mean that is purely imaginary. If , then , i.e. is not positive definite on the tangent spaces.

However, we can get rid of this negative definite subspace. as the complex numbers of unit length (or , say) acts on by multiplying coordinates, and this action preserves : any phase goes away when we apply the absolute value. The quotient of by this action is . The isometry group of this space is still , but now there are point stabilizers because of the action of . We can think of inside as the diagonal matrices, so we can write

And the projectivized matrices is the group of isometries of , where the middle is all vectors in with (which we think of as part of complex projective space). We can also approach this group by projectivizing, since that will get rid of the unwanted point stabilizers too: we have .

5.1. CaseIn the case , we can actually picture . We can’t picture the original , but we are looking at the set of such that . Notice that . After projectivizing, we may divide by , so . The set of points which satisfy this is the interior of the unit circle, so this is what we think of for . The group of complex projective isometries of the disk is . The straight horizontal line is a geodesic, and the complex isometries send circles to circles, so the geodesics in are circles perpendicular to the boundary of in .

Imagine the real projective model as a disk sitting at height one, and the geodesics are the intersections of planes with the disk. Complex hyperbolic space is the upper hemisphere of a sphere of radius one with equator the boundary of real hyperbolic space. To get the geodesics in complex hyperbolic space, intersect a plane with this upper hemisphere and stereographically project it flat. This gives the familiar Poincare disk model.

5.2. Real ‘s contained incontains 2 kinds of real hyperbolic spaces. The subset of real points in is (real) , so we have a many . In addition, we have copies of , which, as discussed above, has the same geometry (i.e. has the same isometry group) as real . However, these two real hyperbolic spaces are not isometric. the complex hyperbolic space has a more negative curvature than the real hyperbolic spaces. If we scale the metric on so that the real hyperbolic spaces have curvature , then the copies of will have curvature .

In a similar vein, there is a symplectic structure on such that the real are lagrangian subspaces (the flattest), and the are symplectic, the most negatively curved.

An important thing to mention is that complex hyperbolic space does not have constant curvature(!).

6. Poincare Disk Model and Upper Half Space ModelThe projective models that we have been dealing with have many nice properties, especially the fact that geodesics in hyperbolic space are straight lines in projective space. However, the angles are wrong. There are models in which the straight lines are “curved” i.e. curved in the euclidean metric, but the angles between them are accurate. Here we are interested in a group of isometries which preserves angles, so we are looking at a conformal model. Dimension 2 is special, because complex geometry is real conformal geometry, but nevertheless, there is a model of in which the isometries of the space are conformal.

Consider the unit disk in dimensions. The conformal automorphisms are the maps taking (straight) diameters and arcs of circles perpendicular to the boundary to this same set. This model is abstractly isomorphic to the Klein model in projective space. Imagine the unit disk in a flat plane of height one with an upper hemisphere over it. The geodesics in the Klein model are the intersections of this flat plane with subspaces (so they are straight lines, for example, in dimension 2). Intersecting vertical planes with the upper hemisphere and stereographically projecting it flat give geodesics in the Poincare disk model. The fact that this model is the “same” (up to scaling the metric) as the example above of is a (nice) coincidence.

The Klein model is the flat disk inside the sphere, and the Poincare disk model is the sphere. Geodesics in the Klein model are intersections of subspaces (the angled plane) with the flat plane at height 1. Geodesics in the Poincare model are intersections of vertical planes with the upper hemisphere. The two darkened geodesics, one in the Klein model and one in the Poincare, correspond under orthogonal projection. We get the usual Poincare disk model by stereographically projecting the upper hemisphere to the disk. The projection of the geodesic is shown as the curved line inside the disk

The Poincare disk model. A few geodesics are shown.

Now we have the Poincare disk model, where the geodesics are straight diameters and arcs of circles perpendicular to the boundary and the isometries are the conformal automorphisms of the unit disk. There is a conformal map from the disk to an open half space (we typically choose to conformally identify it with the upper half space). Conveniently, the hyperbolic metric on the upper half space can be expressed at a point (euclidean coordinates) as . I.e. the hyperbolic metric is just a rescaling (at each point) of the euclidean metric.

One of the important things that we wanted in our models was the ability to realize isometries of the model with isometries of the ambient space. In the case of a one-parameter family of isometries of hyperbolic space, this is possible. Suppose that we have a set of elliptic isometries. Then in the disk model, we can move that point to the origin and realize the isometries by rotations. In the upper half space model, we can move the point to infinity, and realize them by translations.