The Euler characteristic was originally defined for polyhedra and used to prove various theorems about them, including the classification of the Platonic solids. Leonhard Euler, for whom the concept is named, was responsible for much of this early work. In modern mathematics, the Euler characteristic arises from homology and connects to many other invariants.
The Euler characteristic was classically defined for the surfaces of polyhedra, according to the formula
This result is known as Euler's formula. A proof is given below.
V − E + F
|Hexahedron or cube||8||12||6||2|
The surfaces of nonconvex polyhedra can have various Euler characteristics:
V − E + F
The Euler characteristic can be defined for planar graphs by the same formula as for polyhedral surfaces, where F is the number of faces in the graph, including the exterior face.
The Euler characteristic of any planar graph is 2. For via stereographic projection the plane maps to the two-dimensional sphere, such that the graph maps to a polygonal decomposition of the sphere, which has Euler characteristic 2. This viewpoint is implicit in Cauchy's proof of Euler's formula given below.
The first rigorous proof of Euler's formula, given by a 20-year-old Cauchy, is as follows.
Remove one face of the polyhedral surface. By pulling the edges of the missing face away from each other, deform all the rest into a planar graph of points and curves, as illustrated by the first of the three graphs for the special case of the cube. (The assumption that the polyhedral surface is homeomorphic to the sphere at the beginning is what makes this possible.) After this deformation, the regular faces are generally not regular anymore. The number of vertices and edges has remained the same, but the number of faces has been reduced by 1. As such, proving Euler's formula for the polyhedron reduces to proving V − E + F =1 for this deformed, planar object.
If there is a face with more than three sides, draw a diagonal—that is, a curve through the face connecting two vertices that aren't connected yet. This adds one edge and one face and does not change the number of vertices, so it does not change the quantity V − E + F. Continue adding edges in this manner until all of the faces are triangular.
Apply repeatedly either of the following two transformations:
Repeat these two steps, one after the other, until only one triangle remains.
At this point the lone triangle has V = 3, E = 3, and F = 1, so that V − E + F = 1. Since each of the two above transformation steps preserved this quantity, we have shown V − E + F = 1 for the deformed, planar object thus demonstrating V − E + F = 2 for the polyhedron. This proves the theorem.
The polyhedral surfaces discussed above are, in modern language, two-dimensional finite CW-complexes. (When only triangular faces are used, they are two-dimensional finite simplicial complexes.) In general, for any finite CW-complex, the Euler characteristic can be defined as the alternating sum
where denotes the number of cells of dimension in the complex.
More generally still, for any topological space, we can define the nth Betti number as the rank of the n-th singular homology group. The Euler characteristic can then be defined as the alternating sum
This quantity is well-defined if the Betti numbers are all finite and if they are zero beyond a certain index . This definition subsumes the previous ones.
For example, any convex polyhedron is homeomorphic to the three-dimensional ball, so its surface is homeomorphic (hence homotopy equivalent) to the two-dimensional sphere, which has Euler characteristic 2. This explains why convex polyhedra have Euler characteristic 2.
If M and N are any two topological spaces, then the Euler characteristic of their disjoint union is the sum of their Euler characteristics, since homology is additive under disjoint union:
More generally, if M and N are subspaces of a larger space X, then so are their union and intersection. In some cases, the Euler characteristic obeys a version of the inclusion-exclusion principle:
This is true in the following cases:
Also, the Euler characteristic of any product space M × N is
As a corollary of Poincaré duality, the Euler characteristic of any closed odd-dimensional manifold is zero. This applies more generally to any compact stratified space all of whose strata are odd-dimensional.
The Euler characteristic of a closed non-orientable surface can be calculated from its non-orientable genus k (the number of real projective planes in a connected sum decomposition of the surface) as
For closed smooth manifolds, the Euler characteristic coincides with the Euler number, i.e., the Euler class of its tangent bundle evaluated on the fundamental class of a manifold. The Euler class, in turn, relates to all other characteristic classes of vector bundles.
For closed Riemannian manifolds, the Euler characteristic can also be found by integrating the curvature; see the Gauss-Bonnet theorem for the two-dimensional case and the generalized Gauss-Bonnet theorem for the general case.
A discrete analog of the Gauss-Bonnet theorem is Descartes' theorem that the "total defect" of a polyhedron, measured in full circles, is the Euler characteristic of the polyhedron; see defect (geometry).
Hadwiger's theorem characterizes the Euler characteristic as the unique (up to scalar multiplication) translation-invariant, finitely additive, not-necessarily-nonnegative set function defined on finite unions of compact convex sets in Rn that is "homogeneous of degree 0".
The Euler characteristic can be calculated easily for general surfaces by finding a polygonization of the surface (that is, a description as a CW-complex) and using the above definitions.
(Product of two circles)
|Real projective plane||1|
|Two spheres (not connected) |
(Disjoint union of two spheres)
|2 + 2 = 4|
Any contractible space (that is, one homotopy equivalent to a point) has trivial homology, meaning that the 0th Betti number is 1 and the others 0. Therefore its Euler characteristic is 1. This case includes Euclidean space of any dimension, as well as the solid unit ball in any Euclidean space — the one-dimensional interval, the two-dimensional disk, the three-dimensional ball, etc.
The n-dimensional sphere has Betti number 1 in dimensions 0 and n, and all other Betti numbers 0. Hence its Euler characteristic is — that is, either 0 or 2.
The n-dimensional real projective space is the quotient of the n-sphere by the antipodal map. It follows that its Euler characteristic is exactly half that of the corresponding sphere — either 0 or 1.
The n-dimensional torus is the product space of n circles. Its Euler characteristic is 0, by the product property.
More generally, one can define the Euler characteristic of any chain complex to be the alternating sum of the ranks of the homology groups of the chain complex.
Another generalization of the concept of Euler characteristic on manifolds comes from orbifolds. While every manifold has an integer Euler characteristic, an orbifold can have a fractional Euler characteristic. For example, the teardrop orbifold has Euler characteristic 1 + 1/p, where p is a prime number corresponding to the cone angle 2π / p.
The concept of Euler characteristic of a bounded finite poset is another generalization, important in combinatorics. A poset is "bounded" if it has smallest and largest elements; call them 0 and 1. The Euler characteristic of such a poset is defined as μ(0,1), where μ is the Möbius function in that poset's incidence algebra.
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