Coordinates: JH Michell Theatre in the Richard Berry Building
Speaker: Nathan Dunfield (University of Illinois)
Title: The Least Spanning Area of a Knot and the Optimal Bounding Chain Problem
Abstract: (Joint work with Anil Hirani.)

Two fundamental objects in knot theory are the minimal genus surface and the least area surface bounded by a knot in a 3-dimensional manifold. When the knot is embedded in a general 3-manifold, the problems of finding these surfaces were shown to be NP-complete and NP-hard respectively. However, there is evidence that the special case when the ambient manifold is R3, or more generally when the second homology is trivial, should be considerably more tractable. Indeed, we show here that a natural discrete version of the least area surface can be found in polynomial time. The precise setting is that the knot is a 1-dimensional subcomplex of a triangulation of the ambient 3-manifold. The main tool we use is a linear programming formulation of the Optimal Bounding Chain Problem (OBCP), where one is required to find the smallest norm chain with a given boundary. While the decision variant of OBCP is NP-complete in general, we give conditions under which it can be solved in polynomial time. We then show that the least area surface can be constructed from the optimal bounding chain using a standard desingularization argument from 3-dimensional topology. We also prove that the related Optimal Homologous Chain Problem is NP-complete for homology with integer coefficients, complementing the corresponding result of Chen and Freedman for mod 2 homology.
Slides: Dunfield_Hyamfest.pdf (1.1 MB)
Paper: arXiv:1012.3030v3