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An Introduction

Differential Geometry
Course Roadmap

Academic year: 2013-2014 (spring semester)

Differential Geometry: what is it about?

It is Geometry because it is a theory of curves (1-D structures in 3-D Euclidean
space ) and surfaces (2-D structures in 3-D Euclidean space).
It is Differential because it relies heavily on the use of calculus (we will also
need some vector analysis and matrix algebra).
It studies curves and surfaces both locally (e.g. we speak of the curvature of a
curve at a given point) and globally (e.g. we speak of open & closed curves,
compact surfaces, connected surfaces -- these are global properties).
Differential geometry is not only about 3-D space. It can be generalised to any
number of dimensions and this property has been widely used in physics. Most
notably, Einsteins Theory of Relativity describes classical physics and gravitation
as concepts in a curved 4-D spacetime.

Differential geometry: why is it interesting?

First of all, we are surrounded by curves and surfaces. In fact we spend our entire
lives on a quasi-spherical surface!
It therefore makes sense to understand the mathematics of such objects. This
effort begun in antiquity but the main progress was achieved in the 18th & 19th
centuries. Some of the most famous mathematicians have contributed in it, the
most notable one being Carl Friedrich Gauss.
As part of differential geometry, mathematicians developed the concept of
tensors. These are objects with a number of components (like our familiar
matrices) that transform in a particular way when we change our coordinate
system. Fundamental physical laws are all tensor equations (=valid for all
observers, all coordinate systems).
One of the most important achievements of differential geometry is its role in the
development of General Relativity -- the modern theory of gravity and one of the
greatest intellectual achievements in history.

What are we going to learn here?

Basically lots of stuff about curves and surfaces! Some highlights are given below.
But we also need to point out that some topics will not be discussed (e.g. topology)
We will learn what is so special about a circle, a helix, a sphere and study other
famous curves and surfaces.
We will learn how many numbers (or functions) are required to fully describe a
curve or a surface (it can be as few as two!).
We will see that a surface has a family of special curves, called geodesics, which also
represent the shortest path between two points. Remarkably, the same curves
describe the motion of freely falling particles under the action of gravity.
Finally, one of the most important objectives of this course it to make us appreciate
the elegance hidden within the various theorems of differential geometry.

Some prerequisites (I)

We will work a lot with Rn , (n = 1, 2, 3) . This is a collection of points:

Rn = {x = (x1 , ..., xn ) | xi 2 R}
It is also a vector space: the sum of two vectors is a vector, the product of a
vector with a real number is a vector:

(x, y) 2 Rn Rn

( , x) 2 R Rn

x + y 2 Rn

x 2 Rn

x + y = (x1 + y1 , ..., xn + yn )

x = ( x1 , ..., xn )

Apart from position vectors we can have any other vector of the form :

F = ( F1 (x1 , x2 , ..), F2 (x1 , x2 , ...), ..., Fn (x1 , x2 , ...))

The vectors analysis discussed here also applies to this kind of vectors.

Some prerequisites (II)

In addition we define the scalar product (also called the inner product) which is a
bilinear function:

(x, y) 2 Rn Rn

x y 2 Rn

x y = x1 y1 + x2 y2 + ... + xn yn

With this, we can also define a norm (of magnitude) of a vector and the distance
between two points:

|x| =


x21 + ... + x2n

and a distance between two points: D(x, y) = |x


Some prerequisites (III)

The various vectors can be represented in terms of a vector base (this a set of n
linearly independent vectors). Typically we choose to work with an orthonormal
base {e1 , e2 , ...en } where:

e1 = (1, 0, ..., 0),

e2 = (0, 1, 0, ..., 0), ...,

en = (0, 0, ..., 1)

The orthonormality means that:

ei ej =



= 1 if i = j,



= 0 if i 6= j

x i ei


The numbers xi are the vectors components (with respect

to the chosen base). The same vector we can have a
different set of components if we use a different base.
For example, for the two bases {e1 , e2 , ...en } {b
, 1 , b2 , ..., bn }
we have:


x i ei =


i bi


Some prerequisites (IV)

Throughout this course we will use the canonical base {e1 , e2 , ...en } .
The following two equivalent notations will be used for any vector:

x = x1 e1 + ... + xn en = (x1 , ..., xn )

We can also define the outer product (also called cross product) in R :

(x, y) 2 R3 R3

x y = det @ x1

= (x2 y3


x y 2 R3

x3 A

x 3 y 2 ) e1

(x1 y3

x3 y1 ) e2 + (x1 y2

x 2 y 1 ) e3

We can define the derivative of a vector by taking the derivatives of its

components. For example:

F(t) = f1 (t) e1 + f2 (t) e2 + f3 (t) e3 !
= (df1 /dt) e1 + (df2 /dt) e2 + (df3 /dt) e3

Some prerequisites (V)

A functionf (u, v, ...) is said to be of class C m if all its derivatives up to order m
exist and themselves are continuous functions. Typically we will be working with
smooth functions, these are functions of class C 1.
We will also be using the notion of an open set, typically denoted as U.
A subset U 2 Rnis called open if, for every point a in U there is a > 0 such that
every point u in
within a distance from a is also in U:

a 2 U and |u

a| <


Suggested reading
Chapter 1 of the textbook provides a good summary of vector calculus.
Please have a look especially if you feel that you need to refresh your memory
on the subject.