## Posts Tagged ‘closed geodesic’

### A train track on twice punctured torus

April 22, 2012

This is a non-technical post about how I started off trying to prove a lemma and ended up painting this:

One of my favorite books of all time is Thurston‘s ‘Geometry and Topology of 3-manifolds‘ (and I just can’t resist to add here, Thurston, who happen to be my academic grandfather, is in my taste simply the coolest mathematician on earth!) Anyways, for those of you who aren’t topologists, the book is online and I have also blogged about bits and parts of it in some old posts such as this one.

I still vividly remember the time I got my hands on that book for the first time (in fact I had the rare privilege of reading it from an original physical copy of this never-actually-published book, it was a copy on Amie‘s bookshelf, which she ‘robbed’ from Benson Farb, who got it from being a student of Thurston’s here at Princeton years ago). Anyways, the book was darn exciting and inspiring; not only in its wonderful rich mathematical content but also in its humorous, unserious attitude — the book is, in my opinion, not an general-audience expository book, but yet it reads as if one is playing around just to find out how things work, much like what kids do.

To give a taste of what I’m talking about, one of the tiny details which totally caught my heart is this page (I can’t help smiling each time when flipping through the book and seeing the page, and oh it still haunts me >.<):

This was from the chapter about Kleinian groups, when the term ‘train-track’ was first defined, he drew this image of a train(!) on moving on the train tracks, even have smoke steaming out of the engine:

To me such things are simply hilarious (in the most delightful way).

Many years passed and I actually got a bit more into this lamination and train track business. When Dave asked me to ‘draw your favorite maximal train track and test your tube lemma for non-uniquely ergodic laminations’ last week, I ended up drawing:

Here it is, a picture of my favorite maximal train track, on the twice punctured torus~! (Click for larger image)

Indeed, the train is coming with steam~

Since we are at it, let me say a few words about what train tracks are and what they are good for:

A train track (on a surface) is, just as one might expect, a bunch of branches (line segments) with ‘switches’, i.e. whenever multiple branches meet, they must all be tangent at the intersecting point, with at least one branch in each of the two directions. By slightly moving the switches along the track it’s easy to see that generic train track has only switches with one branch on one side and two branches on the other.

On a hyperbolic surface $S_{g,p}$, a train track is maximal if its completementry region is a disjoint union of triangles and once punctured monogons. i.e. if we try to add more branches to a maximal track, the new branch will be redundant in the sense that it’s merely a translate of some existing branch.

As briefly mentioned in this post, train tracks give natural coordinate system for laminations just like counting how many times a closed geodesic intersect a pair of pants decomposition. To be slightly more precise, any lamination can be pushed into some maximal train track (although not unique), once it’s in the track, any laminations that’s Hausdorff close to it can be pushed into the same track. Hence given a maximal train track, the set of all measured laminations carried by the train track form an open set in the lamination space, (with some work) we can see that as measured lamination they are uniquely determined by the transversal measure at each branch of the track. Hence giving a coordinate system on $\mathcal{ML})(S)$.

Different maximal tracks are of course them pasted together along non-maximal tracks which parametrize a subspace of $\mathcal{ML}(S)$ of lower dimension.

To know more about train tracks and laminations, I highly recommend going through the second part of Chapter 8 of Thurston’s book. I also mentioned them for giving coordinate system on the measured lamination space in the last post.

In any case I shall stop getting into the topology now, otherwise it may seem like the post is here to give exposition to the subject while it’s actually here to remind myself of never losing the Thurston type childlike wonder and imagination (which I found strikingly larking in contemporary practice of mathematics).

### Longest shortest geodesic on a 2-sphere

October 31, 2011

This is a little note about constructing a Riemannian 2-sphere which has longer shortest geodesic than the round 2-sphere of same area.

—–  Background Story  —–

So there has been this thing called ‘mathematical conversations’ at the IAS, which involves someone present a topic that’s elementary enough to be accessible to mathematicians in all fields and yet can be expanded in different directions and lead into interesting interdisciplinary discussions.

Nancy Hingston gave one of those conversations about simple geodesics on the two-sphere one night and I was (thanks to Maria Trnkova who dragged me in) able to attend.

So she talked about some fascinating history of proving the existence of closed geodesics and later simple closed geodesics on generic Riemannian two-spheres.

Something about this talk obviously touched my ‘systolic nerve’, so when the discussion session came up I asked whether we have bounds on ‘length of longest possible shortest closed geodesic on a sphere with unit area’. The question seem to have generated some interest in the audience and resulted in a back-and-forth discussion (some of which I had no clue what they were talking about). So the conclusion was at least nobody knows such a result on top of their head and perhaps optimum is obtained by the round sphere.

—–  End of Story —-

A couple of post-docs caught me afterwards (Unfortunately I didn’t get their names down, if you happen to know who they are, tell me~) and suggested that suspending a smooth triangular region and smoothen the corners might have longer shortest geodesic than the round sphere:

The evidence being the fact that on the plane a rounded corner triangular contour has larger ‘width’ than the disc of same area. (note such thing can be made to have same width in all directions)

Well that’s pretty nice, so I went home and did a little high-school computations. The difficulty about the pillow is that the shortest geodesic isn’t necessarily the one that goes through the ‘tip’ and ‘mid-point of the base’, something else might be shorter. I have no idea how to argue that.

A suspicious short geodesic:

So I ended up going with something much simpler, namely gluing together two identical copies of the flat equilateral triangles. This can be made to a Riemannian metric by smoothing the edge and corners a little bit:

Okay, now the situation is super simple~ I want to prove that this ‘sphere’ (let’s call it $S$ from now on) has shortest geodesic longer than the round sphere ($\mathbb{S}^2$)!

Of course we suppose both $S$ and $\mathbb{S}^2$ has area 1.

Claim: The shortest geodesic on $S$ has length $\sqrt[4]{12}$ (which is length of the one through the tip and mid-point of the opposite edge.)

Proof: The shortest closed geodesic passing through the corner is the one described above, since any other such geodesics must contain two symmetric segments from the corner to the bottom edge on the two triangles, those two segments alone is longer than the one orthogonal to the edge.

That middle one has length $2h$ where

$A(\Delta) = 1/2 = h^2/\sqrt{3}$

i.e. $h = \sqrt[4]{3} / \sqrt{2}, \ \ell = 2h = \sqrt[4]{12}$

The good thing about working with flat triangles is that now I know what the closed geodesics are~

First we observe any closed geodesic not passing through the corner is a periodical billiard path in the triangular table with even period.

So let’s ‘unfold’ the triangles on the plane. Such periodic orbits correspond to connecting two corresponding points on a pair of identified parallel edges and the segment between them intersecting an even number of tiles.

W.L.O.G we assume the first point in on edge $e$. Since we are interested in orbits having shortest length, let’s take neighborhood of radius $\sqrt[4]{12} + \epsilon$ around our edge $e$: (all edges with arrows are identified copies of $e$)

There are only 6 parallel copies of $e$ in the neighborhood:

Note that no matter what point $p$ on $e$ we start with, the distance from $p$ to another copy of it on any of the six edges is EQUAL to $\sqrt[4]{12}$. (easy to see since one can slide the segments to begin and end on vertices.)

Hence we conclude there are no shorter periodic billiard paths, i.e. the shortest closed geodesic on $S$ has length $\sqrt[4]{12}$.

Note it’s curious that there are a huge amount of closed geodesics of that particular length, most of them are not even simple! However it seems that after we smoothen $S$ to a Riemannian metric, the non-simple ones all become a little longer than that simple one through the corner. I wonder if it’s possible that on a Riemannian sphere the shortest closed geodesic is a non-simple one.

Anyways, now let’s return to $\mathbb{S}^2$~ So the surface area is $1$ hence the radius is $r= \sqrt{1/4\pi} = \frac{1}{2\sqrt{\pi}}$

Any closed geodesics is a multiple of a great circle, hence the shortest geodesic has length $2 \pi r = \sqrt{\pi}$, which is just slightly shorter than $\sqrt[4]{12} \approx \sqrt{3.4}$.

Now the natural question arises: if the round sphere is not optimum, then what is the optimum?

At this point I looked into the literature a little bit, turns out this problem is quite well-studied and there is a conjecture by Christopher Croke that the optimum is exactly $\sqrt[4]{12}$. (Of course this optimum is achieved by our singular triangle metric hence after smoothing it would be $< \sqrt[4]{12}$.

There is even some recent progress made by Alex Nabutovsky and Regina Rotman from (our!) University of Toronto! See this and this. In particular, one of the things they proved was that the shortest geodesic on a unit area sphere cannot be longer than $8$, which I believe is the best known bound to date. (i.e. there is still some room to $\sqrt[4]{12}$.)

Random remark: The essential difference between this and the systolic questions is that the sphere is simply connected. So the usual starting point, namely ‘lift to universal cover’ for attacking systolic questions does not work. There is also the essential difference where, for example, the question I addressed above regarding whether the shortest geodesic is simple would not exist in systolic situation since we can always split the curve into two pieces and tighten them up, at least one would still be homotopically non-trivial. In conclusion since this question sees no topology but only the geometry of the metric, I find it interesting in its own way.

### A report from the Workshop in Geometric Topology @ Utah (part 1)

May 29, 2011

I went to Park City this passed week for the Workshop in Geometric Topology. It was a quite cool place filled with ski-equipment stores, Christmas souvenir shops, galleries and little wooden houses for family winter vacations. Well, as you may have guessed, the place would look very interesting in summer. :-P

As the ‘principal speaker’, Professor Gabai gave three consecutive lectures on his ending lamination space paper (this paper was also mentioned in my last post). I would like to sketch some little pieces of ideas presented in perhaps couple of posts.

Classification of simple closed curves on surfaces

Let $S_{g,p}$ denote the (hyperbolic) surface of genus $g$ and $p$ punchers. There is a unique geodesic loop in each homotopy class. However, given a geodesic loop drew on the surface, how would you describe it to a friend over telephone?

Here we wish to find a canonical way to describe homotopy classes of curves on surfaces. This classical result was originally due to Dehn (unpublished), but discovered independently by Thurston in 1976. For simplicity let’s assume for now that $S$ is a closed surface of genus $g$.

Fix pants decomposition $\mathcal{T}$ of $S$, $\mathcal{T} = \{ \tau_1, \tau_2, \cdots, \tau_{3g-3} \}$ is a disjoint union of $3g-3$ ‘cuffs’.

As we can see, any simple closed curve will have an (homology) intersection number with each of the cuffs. Those numbers are non-negative integers:

Around each cuff we may assign an integer twist number, for a cuff with intersection number $n$ and twist number $z$, we ‘twist’ the curve inside a little neighborhood of the cuff so that all transversal segments to the cuff will have $z$ intersections with the curve.

Negative twists merely corresponds to twisting in the other direction:

Theorem: Every simple closed curve is uniquely defined by its intersection number and twisting number w.r.t each of the cuffs.

Conversely, if we consider multi-curves (disjoint union of finitely many simple closed curves) then any element in $\mathbb{Z}^{3g-3} \times \mathbb{Z}_{\geq 0}^{3g-3}$ describes a unique multi-curve.

To see this we first assume that the pants decomposition comes with a canonical ‘untwisted’ curve connecting each pairs of cuffs in each pants. (i.e. there is no god given ’0′ twist curves, hence we have to fix which ones to start with.)

In the example above our curve was homotopic to the curve $((1,2), (2,1), (1,-4))$.

In other words, pants decompositions (together with the associated 0-twist arcs) give a natural coordinate chart to the set of homotopy class of (multi) curves on a surface. i.e. they are perimetrized by $\mathbb{Z}^{3g-3} \times \mathbb{Z}_{\geq 0}^{3g-3}$.

For the converse, we see that any triple of integers can be realized by filling the pants with a unique set of untwisted arcs:

In fact, this kind of parametrization can be generalized from integers to real numbers, in which case we have measured laminations instead of multi-curves and maximal train trucks on each pants instead of canonical untwisted arcs. i.e.

Theorem: (Thurston) The space of measured laminations $\mathcal{ML}(S)$ on a surface $S$ of genus $g$ is parametrized by $\mathbb{R}^{3g-3} \times \mathbb{R}_{\geq 0}^{3g-3}$. Furthermore, the correspondence is a homeomorphism.

Here the intersection numbers with the cuffs are wrights of the branches of the train track, hence it can be any non-negative real number. The twisting number is now defined on a continuous family of arcs, hence can be any real number, as shown below:

As we can see, just as in the case of multi-curves, any triple of real numbers assigned to the cuffs can be realized as the weights of branches of a train track on the pants.

### Systolic inequality on the 2-torus

March 1, 2010

Starting last summer with professor Guth, I’ve been interested in the systolic inequality for Riemannian manifolds. As a starting point of a sequence of short posts I plan to write on little observations I had related to the subject, here I’ll talk about the baby case where we find the lower bound of the systole on the $2$-torus in terms of the area of the torus.

Given a Riemannian manifold $(M, g)$ where $g$ is the Riemannian metric.

Definition: The systole of $M$ is the length of smallest homotopically nontrivial loop in $M$.

We are interested in bounding the systole in terms of the $n$-th root of the volume of the manifold ( where $n$ is the dimension of $M$ ).

Note that the systole is only defined when our manifold has non-trivial fundamental group. I wish to remark that for the case of n-torus, having an inequality of the form $(\mbox{Sys}(\mathbb{T}^n))^n \leq C \cdot \mbox{Vol}(\mathbb{T}^n)$ is intuitive as we can see in the case of an embedded $2$-torus in $\mathbb{R}^3$, we may deform the metric (hence the embedding) to make a non-contactable loop as small as we want while keep the volume constant, however when we attempt to make the smallest such loop large when not changing the volume, we can see that we will run into trouble. Hence it’s expected that there is an upper bound for the length of the smallest loop.

Since if only one loop in some homotopy class achieves that minimal length, we should be able to enlarge it and contract some other loops in that class to enlarge the systole and keep the volume constant. Hence it’s tempting to assume that all loops in the same class are of the same length. In the $2$-torus case, such thing is the flat torus. Since any flat torus has systole proportional to $(\mbox{Vol}(\mathbb{T}^2))^{\frac{1}{2}}$, we have reasons to expect the optimal case fall inside this family. i.e.

$(\mbox{Sys}(\mathbb{T}^2))^2 \leq C \cdot \mbox{Vol}(\mathbb{T}^2)$.

This is indeed the case. The result was given in an early unpublished result by Loewner.

Let’s first optimize in the class of flat torus:

My first guess was that $C$ cannot be made less than $1$ i.e. the torus $\mathbb{R}^2/ \mathbb{Z}^2$ is the optimum case. However, this is not true. Let’s be more careful:

$\mathbb{T}^2 = \mathbb{R}^2 / (0,c)\mathbb{Z} \times (a, b)\mathbb{Z}$

Since by scaling does not change ratio between $(\mbox{Vol}(\mathbb{T}^2))$ and $(\mbox{Sys}(\mathbb{T}^2))^2$, we may normalize and let $c=1$

Let $\alpha, \beta$ be generators of the fundamental group of $\mathbb{T}^2$ length of all geodesic loops in class $[\alpha], \ [\beta]$ are the side lengths of the parallelepiped i.e. $1$ and $||(a,b)||$. W.L.O.G we suppose $a, b > 0$. $\alpha \beta^{-1}$ has length $||((1-a),b)||$ and all geodesics in other classes are at least twice as long as one of the above three.

Hence the systole is maximized when those three are equal, we get $a=1/2, b=\sqrt{3}/2$. The systole in this case is $1$ and the volume is $\sqrt{3}/2$. Hence for any flat torus, we have

$(\mbox{Sys}(\mathbb{T}^2))^2 \leq \frac{2}{\sqrt{3}} \cdot \mbox{Vol}(\mathbb{T}^2)$.

Theorem (Loewner): This bound holds for any metric $g$ on $\mathbb{T}^2$.

Proof: We will show this by reducing the case to flat metric.

$g$ induced an almost complex structure on $\mathbb{T}^2$, on surfaces, any almost complex structure is integrable. Hence there exists $f:\mathbb{T}^2 \rightarrow \mathbb{R}^+$ and $g= f \dot g_0$ where $(\mathbb{T}^2, g_0)$ is a Riemann surface.

By uniformization theorem, $(\mathbb{T}^2, g_0)$ is the quotient of $\mathbb{C}$ by a discrete lattice. i.e. $(\mathbb{T}^2, g_0)$ is a flat torus $\mathbb{R}^2 / (0,c)\mathbb{Z} \times (a, b)\mathbb{Z}$.

By scaling of the torus, we may assume the volume of the manifold is $1$ i.e.

$\displaystyle \int_{\mathbb{T}^2} f \ dV_{g_0} = 1 = \mbox{Vol}(\mathbb{T}^2, g_0)$

Any nontrivial homotopy class of loops on $(\mathbb{T}^2, g)$ can be represented by a straight loop on the flat torus. The length of such a loop in $(\mathbb{T}^2, g)$ is merely integration of $f$ along the segment.

Here we have a family of loops in the homotopy class that is straight, by taking a segment of appropriate length orthogonal to the loops, we have the one-parameter family of parallel loops foliate the torus. Hence integrating over the segment of the length of the loops gives us the total volume of the torus. By Fubini, we have at least one loop is longer than volume of the torus over length of the segment we integrated on, which is the length of the straight loop in the flat torus.

Therefore the systole of $(\mathbb{T}^2, g)$ is smaller than the minimum length of straight loops which is smaller than that of the flat torus. While the volume are the same. Hence it suffice to optimize the ratio in the class of flat tori. Establishes the theorem.

Combining the pervious statement, we get

$(\mbox{Sys}(\mathbb{T}^2))^2 \leq \frac{2}{\sqrt{3}} \cdot \mbox{Vol}(\mathbb{T}^2)$

for any metric on the torus.

### Length spectrum

February 8, 2010

I sat through a talk given by Jared Wunsch about a week ago in which he mentioned a certain real valued function (defined for a fixed compact Riemannian manifold) being smooth on all of $\mathbb{R}^+$ except for those points where there is a closed geodesic of that length on the manifold. So at the end I asked the question ‘How many lengths can there be?’ as I am curious about whether ‘being smooth outside those lengths’ is a strong statement for all manifolds (or for generic manifolds).

Later on I found this question is quite cool so I went on and thought a bit more about it.

Turns out this ‘set of lengths of closed geodesics’ is called the length spectrum of the manifold.

Without much difficulty, I constructed surfaces with length spectrum containing a sequence of accumulating points or a (measure zero) Cantor set. (by taking the surface of revolutions of graphs of real valued functions with certain properties)

Note that the length spectrum itself need not be closed as one can easily construct examples where there is a sequence of closed geodesics accumulating to a parametrized curve that goes along a closed geodesic twice. However, since there can’t be a sequence of lengths approaching to $0$ (because, for example, the injectivity radius is bounded below from $0$ by compactness) we may throw in all integer multiples of the lengths of closed geodesics, in each finite interval this is merely taking a union of finitely many copies of the geodesics (hence essentially does not change the size of the set). This resulting set of ‘generalized lengths of closed geodesics’ is closed.

I wish to show that the set of generalized lengths of closed geodesics is both measure $0$ and nowhere dense (hence meager in the Baire category sense) by applying Sard’s theorem to a appropriately defined setting.

I’ll try to do this sometime soon, to be continued~