Let {C} be an algebraic curve over {\mathbb{C}}. A theta characteristic on {C} is a (holomorphic or algebraic) square root of the canonical line bundle {K_C}, i.e. a line bundle {L \in \mathrm{Pic}(C)} such that

\displaystyle L^{\otimes 2} \simeq K_C.

Since the degree of {K_C} is even, such theta characteristics exist, and in fact form a torsor over the 2-torsion in the Jacobian {J(C) = \mathrm{Pic}^0(C)}, which is isomorphic to {H^1(C; \mathbb{Z}/2\mathbb{Z}) \simeq (\mathbb{Z}/2\mathbb{Z})^{2g}}.

One piece of geometric motivation for theta characteristics comes from the following observation: theta characteristics form an algebro-geometric approach to framings. By a theorem of Atiyah, holomorphic square roots of the canonical bundle on a compact complex manifold are equivalent to spin structures. In complex dimension one, a choice of a spin structure is equivalent to a framing of {M}. On a framed manifolds, there is a canonical choice of quadratic refinement on the middle-dimensional mod {2} homology (with its intersection pairing), which gives an important invariant of the framed manifold known as the Kervaire invariant. (See for instance this post on the paper of Kervaire that introduced it.)

It turns out that the mod {2} function {L \mapsto \dim H^0(C, L)} on the theta characteristics is precisely this invariant. In other words, theta characteristics give a purely algebraic (valid in all characteristics, at least {\neq 2}) approach to the Kervaire invariant, for surfaces!

Most of the material in this post is from two papers: Atiyah’s Riemann surfaces and spin structures and Mumford’s Theta characteristics of an algebraic curve. (more…)

I’ve just uploaded to arXiv my paper “The homology of {\mathrm{tmf}},” which is an outgrowth of a project I was working on last summer. The main result of the paper is a description, well-known in the field but never written down in detail, of the mod {2} cohomology of the spectrum {\mathrm{tmf}} of (connective) topological modular forms, as a module over the Steenrod algebra: one has

\displaystyle H^*(\mathrm{tmf}; \mathbb{Z}/2) \simeq \mathcal{A} \otimes_{\mathcal{A}(2)} \mathbb{Z}/2,

where {\mathcal{A}} is the Steenrod algebra and {\mathcal{A}(2) \subset \mathcal{A}} is the 64-dimensional subalgebra generated by {\mathrm{Sq}^1, \mathrm{Sq}^2,} and { \mathrm{Sq}^4}. This computation means that the Adams spectral sequence can be used to compute the homotopy groups of {\mathrm{tmf}}; one has a spectral sequence

\displaystyle \mathrm{Ext}^{s,t}( \mathcal{A} \otimes_{\mathcal{A}(2)} \mathbb{Z}/2, \mathbb{Z}/2) \simeq \mathrm{Ext}^{s,t}_{\mathcal{A}(2)}(\mathbb{Z}/2, \mathbb{Z}/2) \implies \pi_{t-s} \mathrm{tmf} \otimes \widehat{\mathbb{Z}_2}.

Since {\mathcal{A}(2) \subset \mathcal{A}} is finite-dimensional, the entire {E_2} page of the ASS can be computed, although the result is quite complicated. Christian Nassau has developed software to do these calculations, and a picture of the {E_2} page for {\mathrm{tmf}} is in the notes from André Henriques‘s 2007 talk at the Talbot workshop. (Of course, the determination of the differentials remains.)

The approach to the calculation of {H^*(\mathrm{tmf}; \mathbb{Z}/2)} in this paper is based on a certain eight-cell (2-local) complex {DA(1)}, with the property that

\displaystyle \mathrm{tmf} \wedge DA(1) \simeq BP\left \langle 2\right\rangle,

where {BP\left \langle 2\right\rangle = BP/(v_3, v_4, \dots, )} is a quotient of the classical Brown-Peterson spectrum by a regular sequence. The usefulness of this equivalence, a folk theorem that is proved in the paper, is that the spectrum {BP\left \langle 2\right\rangle} is a complex-orientable ring spectrum, so that computations with it (instead of {\mathrm{tmf}}) become much simpler. In particular, one can compute the cohomology of {BP\left \langle 2\right\rangle} (e.g., from the cohomology of {BP}), and one finds that it is cyclic over the Steenrod algebra. One can then try to “descend” to the cohomology of {\mathrm{tmf}}. This “descent” procedure is made much simpler by a battery of techniques from Hopf algebra theory: the cohomologies in question are graded, connected Hopf algebras. (more…)

The topic of topological modular forms is a very broad one, and a single blog post cannot do justice to the whole theory. In this section, I’ll try to answer the question as follows: {\mathrm{tmf}} is a higher analog of {KO}theory (or rather, connective {KO}-theory).

1. What is {\mathrm{tmf}}?

The spectrum of (real) {KO}-theory is usually thought of geometrically, but it’s also possible to give a purely homotopy-theoretic description. First, one has complex {K}-theory. As a ring spectrum, {K} is complex orientable, and it corresponds to the formal group {\hat{\mathbb{G}_m}}: the formal multiplicative group. Along with {\hat{\mathbb{G}_a}}, the formal multiplicative group {\hat{\mathbb{G}_m}} is one of the few “tautological” formal groups, and it is not surprising that {K}-theory has a “tautological” formal group because the Chern classes of a line bundle {\mathcal{L}} (over a topological space {X}) in {K}-theory are defined by

\displaystyle c_1( \mathcal{L}) = [\mathcal{L}] - [\mathbf{1}];

that is, one uses the class of the line bundle {\mathcal{L}} itself in {K^0(X)} (modulo a normalization) to define.

The formal multiplicative group has the property that it is Landweber-exact: that is, the map classifying {\hat{\mathbb{G}_m}},

\displaystyle \mathrm{Spec} \mathbb{Z} \rightarrow M_{FG},

from {\mathrm{Spec} \mathbb{Z}} to the moduli stack of formal groups {M_{FG}}, is a flat morphism. (more…)

The purpose of this post, the third in a series on deformation theory and DGLAs, is to describe the obstruction theory for a formal moduli problem associated to a DGLA.

1. Tangent-obstruction theories

Standard problems in classical deformation theory usually have a “tangent-obstruction theory” parametrized by certain successive cohomology groups. For example, let’s consider the problem of deformations of a smooth variety {X} over an algebraically closed field {k}, over finite-dimensional local {k}-algebras. Then:

  • The “infinitesimal automorphisms” of {X}—that is, automorphisms of the trivial deformation over {k[\epsilon]/\epsilon^2}—are given by {H^0( X, T_X)} where {T_X} is the tangent bundle (i.e., vector fields).
  • The isomorphism classes of deformations of {X} over the dual numbers {k[\epsilon]/\epsilon^2} are given by {H^1(X, T_X)}.
  • There is an obstruction theory with {H^1, H^2}. Specifically, given a square-zero extension of finite-dimensional local {k}-algebras

    \displaystyle 0 \rightarrow I \rightarrow A' \rightarrow A \rightarrow 0,

    and given a deformation {\xi} of {X} over {\mathrm{Spec} A}, there is a functorial obstruction in {H^2(X, T_X) \otimes_k I} to extending the deformation over the inclusion {\mathrm{Spec} A \hookrightarrow \mathrm{Spec} A'}.

  • In the previous item, if the obstruction vanishes, then the isomorphism classes of extensions of {\xi} over {\mathrm{Spec} A'} are a torsor for {H^1(X, T_X) \otimes_k I}.

One has a similar picture for other deformation problems, for example deformations of vector bundles or closed subschemes. The “derived” approach to deformation theory provides (at least in characteristic zero) a general explanation for this phenomenon. (more…)

Let {k} be a field of characteristic zero. In the previous post, we introduced the category (i.e., {\infty}-category) {\mathrm{Moduli}_k} of formal moduli problems over {k}. A formal moduli problem over {k} is a moduli problem, taking values in spaces, that can be evaluated on the class of “derived” artinian {k}-algebras with residue field {k}: this was the category {\mathrm{CAlg}_{sm}} introduced in the previous post.

In other words, a formal moduli problem was a functor

\displaystyle F: \mathrm{CAlg}_{sm} \rightarrow \mathcal{S} \ (= \text{spaces}),

which was required to send {k} itself to a point, and satisfy a certain cohesiveness condition: {F} respects certain pullbacks in {\mathrm{CAlg}_{sm}} (which corresponded geometrically to pushouts of schemes).

The main goal of the series of posts was to sketch a proof of (and define everything in) the following result:

Theorem 7 (Lurie; Pridham) There is an equivalence of categories between {\mathrm{Moduli}_k} and the {\infty}-category {\mathrm{dgLie}} of DGLAs over {k}.


4. Overview

Here’s a rough sketch of the idea. Given a formal moduli problem {F}, we should think of {F} as something like a small space, concentrated at a point but with lots of “infinitesimal” thickening. (Something like a {\mathrm{Spf}}.) Moreover, {F} has a canonical basepoint corresponding to the “trivial deformation.” That is, we can think of {F} as taking values in pointed spaces rather than spaces.

It follows that we can form the loop space {\Omega F = \ast \times_F \ast} of {F}, which is a new formal moduli problem. However, {\Omega F} has more structure: it’s a group object in the category of formal moduli problems — that is, it’s some sort of derived formal Lie group. Moreover, knowledge of the original {F} is equivalent to knowledge of {\Omega F} together with its group structure: we can recover {F} as {B \Omega F} (modulo connectivity issues that end up not being a problem). This relation between ordinary objects and group objects (via {B, \Omega}) is something very specific to the derived or homotopy world, and it’s what leads to phenomena such as Koszul duality. (more…)

Let {X} be a variety over an algebraically closed field {k}. {X} is said to be rational if {X} is birational to {\mathbb{P}_k^n}. In general, it is difficult to determine when a variety in higher dimensions is rational, although there are numerical invariants in dimensions one and two.

  • Let {X} be a smooth projective curve. Then {X} is rational if and only if its genus is zero.
  • Let {X} be a smooth projective surface. Then {X} is rational if and only if there are no global 1-forms on {X} (i.e., {H^0(X, \Omega_{X/k}) = 0}) and the second plurigenus {H^0(X, \omega_{X/k}^{\otimes 2}) } vanishes. This is a statement about the negativity of the cotangent bundle (or, equivalently, of the positivity of the tangent bundle) which is a birational invariant and which holds for {\mathbb{P}^2_k}. The result is a criterion of Castelnuovo, extended by Zariski to characteristic p.

In higher dimensions, it is harder to tell when a variety is rational. An easier problem is to determine when a variety is unirational: that is, when there is a dominant rational map

\displaystyle \mathbb{P}_k^n \dashrightarrow X;

or, equivalently, when the function field {k(X)} has a finite extension which is purely transcendental. In dimensions one and two (and in characteristic zero), the above invariants imply that a unirational variety is rational. In higher dimensions, there are many more unirational varieties: for example, a theorem of Harris, Mazur, and Pandharipande states that a degree {d} hypersurface in {\mathbb{P}^N}, {N \gg 0} is always unirational.

The purpose of this post is to describe a theorem of Serre that shows the difficulty of distinguishing rationality from unirationality. Let’s work over {\mathbb{C}}. The fundamental group of a smooth projective variety is a birational invariant, and so any rational variety has trivial {\pi_1}.

Theorem 1 (Serre) A unirational (smooth, projective) variety over {\mathbb{C}} has trivial {\pi_1}.

The reference is Serre’s paper “On the fundamental group of a unirational variety,” in J. London Math Soc. 1959. (more…)

The purpose of this post is to describe Sullivan’s proof of the Adams conjecture via algebraic geometry; the conjecture and its motivation were described in the previous post (from where the notation is taken). The classical reference is Sullivan’s paper “Genetics of homotopy theory and the Adams conjecture,” and the MIT notes on “Geometric topology.”

1. First step: completion at a prime

Sullivan’s proof of the Adams conjecture  is based on interpreting the Adams operations via a surprising Galois symmetry in the (profinitely completed) homotopy types of classifying spaces. Let’s work in the complex case for simplicity. Our goal is to show that the composite

\displaystyle BU(n) \stackrel{\psi^k - 1}{\rightarrow } BU \stackrel{J}{\rightarrow} B \mathrm{gl}_1(S)[1/k]

is nullhomotopic. (The map J was defined in the previous post.)

Since the homotopy groups of {B \mathrm{gl}_1(S)[1/k]} are finite, it will follow (by the Milnor exact sequence) that we can let {n \rightarrow \infty} and conclude that the map

\displaystyle BU \stackrel{\psi^k - 1}{\rightarrow } BU \stackrel{J}{\rightarrow} B \mathrm{gl}_1(S)[1/k]

is nullhomotopic (i.e., there are no phantom maps into a spectrum with finite homotopy groups).

Using again the finiteness of the homotopy groups of {B \mathrm{gl}_1(S)[1/k]}, we can get a splitting

\displaystyle B \mathrm{gl}_1(S)[1/k] = \prod_{p \nmid k} \widehat{ B \mathrm{gl}_1(S)}_p

into the respective profinite completions. There is a well-behaved theory of profinite completions for connective spectra, or for sufficiently nice (e.g. simply connected with finitely generated homology) spaces, which will be the subject of a different post. (more…)

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