In mathematics, specifically in topology, a surface is a two-dimensional manifold. The most familiar examples are those that arise as the boundaries of solid objects in ordinary three-dimensional Euclidean space, E³. On the other hand, there are also more exotic surfaces, that are so "contorted" that they cannot be embedded in three-dimensional space at all.
To say that a surface is "two-dimensional" means that, about each point, there is a coordinate patch on which a two-dimensional coordinate system is defined. For example, the surface of the Earth is (ideally) a two-dimensional sphere, and latitude and longitude provide coordinates on it — except at the International Date Line and the poles, where longitude is undefined. This example illustrates that in general it is not possible to extend any one coordinate patch to the entire surface; surfaces, like manifolds of all dimensions, are usually constructed by patching together multiple coordinate systems.
Surfaces find application in physics, engineering, computer graphics, and many other disciplines, primarily when they represent the surfaces of physical objects. For example, in analyzing the aerodynamic properties of an airplane, the central consideration is the flow of air along its surface.
The set of points that have an open neighbourhood homeomorphic to E² is called the interior of the surface; it is always non-empty. The complement of the interior is called the boundary; it is a one-manifold, or union of closed curves. The simplest example of a surface with boundary is the closed disk in E²; its boundary is a circle.
A surface with an empty boundary is called boundaryless. (Sometimes the word surface, used alone, refers only to boundaryless surfaces.) A closed surface is one that is boundaryless and compact. The two-dimensional sphere, the two-dimensional torus, and the real projective plane are examples of closed surfaces.
The Möbius strip is a surface with only one "side". In general, a surface is said to be orientable if it does not contain a homeomorphic copy of the Möbius strip; intuitively, it has two distinct "sides". For example, the sphere and torus are orientable, while the real projective plane is not (because deleting a point or disk from the real projective plane produces the Möbius strip).
Historically, surfaces were originally defined and constructed not using the abstract, intrinsic definition given above, but extrinsically, as subsets of Euclidean spaces such as E³.
On the other hand, suppose that f is a smooth function from R³ to R whose gradient is nowhere zero. Then the locus of zeros of f is said to be an implicit surface. If the condition of non-vanishing gradient is dropped then the zero locus may develop singularities.
One can also define parametric and implicit surfaces in higher-dimensional Euclidean spaces En. It is natural to ask whether all surfaces (defined abstractly, as in the preceding section) arise as subsets of some En. The answer is yes; the Whitney embedding theorem, in the case of surfaces, states that any surface can be embedded homeomorphically into E4. Therefore the extrinsic and intrinsic approaches turn out to be equivalent.
In fact, any compact surface that is either orientable or has a boundary can be embedded in E³; on the other hand, the real projective plane, which is compact, non-orientable and without boundary, cannot be embedded into E³ (see Gramain). Steiner surfaces, including Boy's surface, the Roman surface and the cross-cap, are immersions of the real projective plane into E³. These surfaces are singular where the immersions intersect themselves.
The chosen embedding (if any) of a surface into another space is regarded as extrinsic information; it is not essential to the surface itself. For example, a torus can be embedded into E³ in the "standard" manner (that looks like a bagel) or in a knotted manner (see figure). The two embedded tori are homeomorphic but not isotopic; they are topologically equivalent, but their embeddings are not.
Any fundamental polygon can be written symbolically as follows. Begin at any vertex, and proceed around the perimeter of the polygon in either direction until returning to the starting vertex. During this traversal, record the label on each edge in order, with an exponent of -1 if the edge points opposite to the direction of traversal. The four models above, when traversed clockwise starting at the upper left, yield
The expression thus derived from a fundamental polygon of a surface turns out to be the sole relation in a presentation of the fundamental group of the surface with the polygon edge labels as generators. This is a consequence of the Seifert–van Kampen theorem.
The connected sum of two surfaces M and N, denoted M # N, is obtained by removing a disk from each of them and gluing them along the boundary components that result. The Euler characteristic of M # N is the sum of the Euler characteristics of the summands, minus two:
The sphere S is an identity element for the connected sum, meaning that S # M = M. This is because deleting a disk from the sphere leaves a disk, which simply replaces the disk deleted from M upon gluing.
Connected summation with the torus T has the effect of attaching a "handle" to the other summand M. If M is orientable, then so is T # M. The connected sum can be iterated to attach any number g of handles to M.
The connected sum of two real projective planes is the Klein bottle. The connected sum of the real projective plane and the Klein bottle is homeomorphic to the connected sum of the real projective plane with the torus. Any connected sum involving a real projective plane is nonorientable.
The surfaces in the first two families are orientable. It is convenient to combine the two families by regarding the sphere as the connected sum of 0 tori. The number g of tori involved is called the genus of the surface. Since the sphere and the torus have Euler characteristics 2 and 0, respectively, it follows that the Euler characteristic of the connected sum of g tori is 2 − 2g.
The surfaces in the third family are nonorientable. Since the Euler characteristic of the real projective plane is 1, the Euler characteristic of the connected sum of k of them is 2 − k.
It follows that a closed surface is determined, up to homeomorphism, by two pieces of information: its Euler characteristic, and whether it is orientable or not. In other words, Euler characteristic and orientability completely classify closed surfaces up to homeomorphism.
Polyhedra, such as the boundary of a cube, are among the first surfaces encountered in geometry. It is also possible to define smooth surfaces, in which each point has a neighborhood diffeomorphic to some open set in E². This elaboration allows calculus to be applied to surfaces to prove many results.
Two smooth surfaces are diffeomorphic if and only if they are homeomorphic. (The analogous result does not hold for higher-dimensional manifolds.) Thus closed surfaces are classified up to diffeomorphism by their Euler characteristic and orientability.
Smooth surfaces equipped with Riemannian metrics are of foundational importance in differential geometry. A Riemannian metric endows a surface with notions of geodesic, distance, angle, and area. It also gives rise to Gaussian curvature, which describes how curved or bent the surface is at each point. Curvature is a rigid, geometric property, in that it is not preserved by general diffeomorphisms of the surface. However, the famous Gauss-Bonnet theorem for closed surfaces states that the integral of the Gaussian curvature K over the entire surface S is determined by the Euler characteristic:
Another way in which surfaces arise in geometry is by passing into the complex domain. A complex one-manifold is a smooth oriented surface, also called a Riemann surface. Any complex nonsingular algebraic curve viewed as a real manifold is a Riemann surface.
Every closed surface admits complex structures. Complex structures on a closed oriented surface correspond to conformal equivalence classes of Riemannian metrics on the surface. One version of the uniformization theorem (due to Poincaré) states that any Riemannian metric on an oriented, closed surface is conformally equivalent to an essentially unique metric of constant curvature. This provides a starting point for one of the approaches to Teichmüller theory, which provides a finer classification of Riemann surfaces than the topological one by Euler characteristic alone.
A complex surface is a complex two-manifold and thus a real four-manifold; it is not a surface in the sense of this article. Neither are algebraic curves or surfaces defined over fields other than the complex numbers.