# Chern class

In mathematics, in particular in algebraic topology, differential geometry and algebraic geometry, the **Chern classes** are characteristic classes associated with complex vector bundles. They have since found applications in physics, Calabi–Yau manifolds, string theory, Chern–Simons theory, knot theory, Gromov–Witten invariants, topological quantum field theory, the Chern theorem etc^{[citation needed]}.

Chern classes are characteristic classes. They are topological invariants associated with vector bundles on a smooth manifold. The question of whether two ostensibly different vector bundles are the same can be quite hard to answer. The Chern classes provide a simple test: if the Chern classes of a pair of vector bundles do not agree, then the vector bundles are different. The converse, however, is not true.

In topology, differential geometry, and algebraic geometry, it is often important to count how many linearly independent sections a vector bundle has. The Chern classes offer some information about this through, for instance, the Riemann–Roch theorem and the Atiyah–Singer index theorem.

Chern classes are also feasible to calculate in practice. In differential geometry (and some types of algebraic geometry), the Chern classes can be expressed as polynomials in the coefficients of the curvature form.

There are various ways of approaching the subject, each of which focuses on a slightly different flavor of Chern class.

The original approach to Chern classes was via algebraic topology: the Chern classes arise via homotopy theory which provides a mapping associated with a vector bundle to a classifying space (an infinite Grassmannian in this case). For any complex vector bundle *V* over a manifold *M*, there exists a map *f* from *M* to the classifying space such that the bundle *V* is equal to the pullback, by *f*, of a universal bundle over the classifying space, and the Chern classes of *V* can therefore be defined as the pullback of the Chern classes of the universal bundle. In turn, these universal Chern classes can be explicitly written down in terms of Schubert cycles.

It can be shown that for any two maps *f*, *g* from *M* to the classifying space whose pullbacks are the same bundle *V*, the maps must be homotopic. Therefore, the pullback by either *f* or *g* of any universal Chern class to a cohomology class of *M* must be the same class. This shows that the Chern classes of *V* are well-defined.

Chern's approach used differential geometry, via the curvature approach described predominantly in this article. He showed that the earlier definition was in fact equivalent to his. The resulting theory is known as the Chern–Weil theory.

There is also an approach of Alexander Grothendieck showing that axiomatically one need only define the line bundle case.

Chern classes arise naturally in algebraic geometry. The generalized Chern classes in algebraic geometry can be defined for vector bundles (or more precisely, locally free sheaves) over any nonsingular variety. Algebro-geometric Chern classes do not require the underlying field to have any special properties. In particular, the vector bundles need not necessarily be complex.

Regardless of the particular paradigm, the intuitive meaning of the Chern class concerns 'required zeroes' of a section of a vector bundle: for example the theorem saying one can't comb a hairy ball flat (hairy ball theorem). Although that is strictly speaking a question about a *real* vector bundle (the "hairs" on a ball are actually copies of the real line), there are generalizations in which the hairs are complex (see the example of the complex hairy ball theorem below), or for 1-dimensional projective spaces over many other fields.

(Let *X* be a topological space having the homotopy type of a CW complex.)

An important special case occurs when *V* is a line bundle. Then the only nontrivial Chern class is the first Chern class, which is an element of the second cohomology group of *X*. As it is the top Chern class, it equals the Euler class of the bundle.

the tensor product of complex line bundles corresponds to the addition in the second cohomology group.^{[1]}^{[2]}

In algebraic geometry, this classification of (isomorphism classes of) complex line bundles by the first Chern class is a crude approximation to the classification of (isomorphism classes of) holomorphic line bundles by linear equivalence classes of divisors.

For complex vector bundles of dimension greater than one, the Chern classes are not a complete invariant.

with ω the connection form and *d* the exterior derivative, or via the same expression in which ω is a gauge form for the gauge group of *V*. The scalar *t* is used here only as an indeterminate to generate the sum from the determinant, and *I* denotes the *n* × *n* identity matrix.

To say that the expression given is a *representative* of the Chern class indicates that 'class' here means up to addition of an exact differential form. That is, Chern classes are cohomology classes in the sense of de Rham cohomology. It can be shown that the cohomology classes of the Chern forms do not depend on the choice of connection in *V*.

One can define a Chern class in terms of an Euler class. This is the approach in the book by Milnor and Stasheff, and emphasizes the role of an orientation of a vector bundle.

It then takes some work to check the axioms of Chern classes are satisfied for this definition.

For this, we need the following fact: the first Chern class of a trivial bundle is zero, i.e.,

This is evinced by the fact that a trivial bundle always admits a flat connection. So, we shall show that

We must show that this cohomology class is non-zero. It suffices to compute its integral over the Riemann sphere:

after switching to polar coordinates. By Stokes' theorem, an exact form would integrate to 0, so the cohomology class is nonzero.

A Chern polynomial is a convenient way to handle Chern classes and related notions systematically. By definition, for a complex vector bundle *E*, the **Chern polynomial** *c*_{t} of *E* is given by:

The Whitney sum formula, one of the axioms of Chern classes (see below), says that *c*_{t} is additive in the sense:

is called the Chern character of *E*, whose first few terms are: (we drop *E* from writing.)

**Remark**: The observation that a Chern class is essentially an elementary symmetric polynomial can be used to "define" Chern classes. Let *G*_{n} be the infinite Grassmannian of *n*-dimensional complex vector spaces. It is a classifying space in the sense that, given a complex vector bundle *E* of rank *n* over *X*, there is a continuous map

unique up to homotopy. Borel's theorem says the cohomology ring of *G*_{n} is exactly the ring of symmetric polynomials, which are polynomials in elementary symmetric polynomials σ_{k}; so, the pullback of *f*_{E} reads:

Given a complex vector bundle *E* over a topological space *X*, the Chern classes of *E* are a sequence of elements of the cohomology of *X*. The ** k-th Chern class** of

*E*, which is usually denoted

*c*(

_{k}*E*), is an element of

the cohomology of *X* with integer coefficients. One can also define the **total Chern class**

Since the values are in integral cohomology groups, rather than cohomology with real coefficients, these Chern classes are slightly more refined than those in the Riemannian example.^{[clarification needed]}

Alternatively, Alexander Grothendieck (1958) replaced these with a slightly smaller set of axioms:

He shows using the Leray–Hirsch theorem that the total Chern class of an arbitrary finite rank complex vector bundle can be defined in terms of the first Chern class of a tautologically-defined line bundle.

One then may check that this alternative definition coincides with whatever other definition one may favor, or use the previous axiomatic characterization.

In fact, these properties uniquely characterize the Chern classes. They imply, among other things:

Chern classes can be used to construct a homomorphism of rings from the topological K-theory of a space to (the completion of) its rational cohomology. For a line bundle *L*, the Chern character ch is defined by

This last expression, justified by invoking the splitting principle, is taken as the definition *ch(V)* for arbitrary vector bundles *V*.

If a connection is used to define the Chern classes when the base is a manifold (i.e., the Chern–Weil theory), then the explicit form of the Chern character is

The Chern character is useful in part because it facilitates the computation of the Chern class of a tensor product. Specifically, it obeys the following identities:

As stated above, using the Grothendieck additivity axiom for Chern classes, the first of these identities can be generalized to state that *ch* is a homomorphism of abelian groups from the K-theory *K*(*X*) into the rational cohomology of *X*. The second identity establishes the fact that this homomorphism also respects products in *K*(*X*), and so *ch* is a homomorphism of rings.

The Chern numbers of the tangent bundle of a complex (or almost complex) manifold are called the Chern numbers of the manifold, and are important invariants.

There is a generalization of the theory of Chern classes, where ordinary cohomology is replaced with a generalized cohomology theory. The theories for which such generalization is possible are called *complex orientable*. The formal properties of the Chern classes remain the same, with one crucial difference: the rule which computes the first Chern class of a tensor product of line bundles in terms of first Chern classes of the factors is not (ordinary) addition, but rather a formal group law.

In algebraic geometry there is a similar theory of Chern classes of vector bundles. There are several variations depending on what groups the Chern classes lie in:

The theory of Chern classes gives rise to cobordism invariants for almost complex manifolds.

If *M* is an almost complex manifold, then its tangent bundle is a complex vector bundle. The **Chern classes** of *M* are thus defined to be the Chern classes of its tangent bundle. If *M* is also compact and of dimension 2*d*, then each monomial of total degree 2*d* in the Chern classes can be paired with the fundamental class of *M*, giving an integer, a **Chern number** of *M*. If *M*′ is another almost complex manifold of the same dimension, then it is cobordant to *M* if and only if the Chern numbers of *M*′ coincide with those of *M*.

The theory also extends to real symplectic vector bundles, by the intermediation of compatible almost complex structures. In particular, symplectic manifolds have a well-defined Chern class.