Geometry and computability in low-dimensional topology and group theory.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Mathematical Institute


With the proof of Thurston's Geometrisation Conjecture, 3-manifolds are in some sense classified. However, the non-constructive nature of the proof gives no direct method for deciding whether two given 3-manifolds are the same. In this project, Ascari will examine these computational questions. He will approach it using several techniques. On the one hand, topological tools such as hierarchies will prove to be useful. On the other hand, algebraic approaches, such as the use of the profinite completion of the fundamental group, will also be fruitful. Overlying both these approaches is the pervasive role of hyperbolic geometry, which is an area of expertise of Ascari. A field where these questions are particularly of interest is knot theory, which Ascari will also examine.

We now explain these approaches in a bit more detail. The profinite completion of a finite generated group is a compact topological group that is the inverse limit of its finite quotients. It is conjectured that the profinite completion of the fundamental group of a hyperbolic 3-manifold should completely determine the manifold. If true, this would provide a new solution to the homeomorphism problem for 3-manifolds. Both of Dario's supervisors have expertise in this area. Lackenby has used profinite completions to study finite-sheeted covers of 3-manifolds, and Bridson has recently discovered the first example of a hyperbolic 3-manifold that is determined by its profinite completion. In fact, it is determined by its profinite completion among all finitely generated residually finite groups.

A hierarchy for a 3-manifold is a finite sequence of decompositions along incompressible surfaces that cuts the manifold into 3-balls. Haken showed that many 3-manifolds have a hierarchy; in particular, all knot complements have one. He used these to produce the first solution to the equivalence problem for knots and links. Lackenby has used hierarchies to produce quantitative bounds on the computational complexity of this and related problems. For example, he showed that the problem of recognising the unknot lies in the complexity class co-NP. In his project, Dario will use these methods to analyse more complicated knots. This will tie in with the study of profinite completions, since it seems likely that a proof of profinite rigidity will need to use incompressible surfaces in some way.

This project will draw on many different areas of expertise of Dario's supervisors Lackenby and Bridson. It will require sophisticated methods in low-dimensional topology, hyperbolic geometry and geometric group theory.

The project lies in the EPSCR Research Areas Geometry & Topology and Algebra.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/R513295/1 01/10/2018 30/09/2023
2283616 Studentship EP/R513295/1 01/10/2019 31/03/2023 Dario Ascari