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Math 21a

John Nashs Problem

Fall, 2010

In A Beautiful Mind, John Nash (i.e. Russell Crowe) presents the following problem to his multivariable calculus class, offering the words of encouragement This problem here will take some of you many months to solve; for others among you it will take you the term of your natural lives. Well solve it in the rest of class today. Problem. Let X be a subset of R3 , and let V be the set of vector fields F with curl F = 0 that are defined on R3 \ X (that is, defined on all of R3 except possibly on X). Let W be the set of conservative vector fields F = f . Calculate the dimension of the space V /W . A bit of clarification is needed for the last statement (you will learn it rigorously next term if you take Math 21b). For instance, to say that the dimension of V /W is 8 would mean that there are 8 vector fields F1 , . . . , F8 defined everywhere except X with the following properties: 1. curl Fi = 0 outside X for each i. 2. No sum of multiples of the Fi is conservative (except the zero vector field 0F1 + +0F8 = 0). So if a1 , . . . , a8 are numbers, not all zero, then a1 F1 + + a8 F8 cant be written as f for any function f . 3. If G is any vector field with curl G = 0 then there are numbers a1 , . . . , a8 and a function f such that G (a1 F1 + + a8 F8 ) = f . Instead of diving head-first into the full problem, lets first attack a slightly easier version. 2D Version of the Problem. Let X = {(0, 0)} be the origin, and let V be the set of vector fields F on R2 \ X which satisfy curl F = 0. Let W be the set of vector fields F which are gradient fields. Show that dim(V /W ) = 1. In order to show dim(V /W ) = 1, we must find a (single) 2D vector field F defined everywhere except the origin with the following properties: 1. curl F = 0 everywhere except the origin. 2. If a is a nonzero number, the vector field aF is not conservative. 3. If G is any vector field defined everywhere except the origin and curl G = 0, then there is a number a and a function f such that G aF = f . To solve this problem, lets put F(x, y) = 1 2 x2 y x , 2 x2 + y 2 +y

for the next 6 problems. We need to check that properties 1-3 above are satisfied.

Verify that curl F = 0 to check property 1.

Compute the line integral C aF dr for any number a, where C is the unit circle, oriented counterclockwise. Conclude that aF is not a conservative vector field, and deduce property 2.

Now let G be any vector field defined everywhere except the origin, with curl G = 0. Suppose C and C are two different closed paths not passing through the origin, and that we can wiggle C to obtain C without passing through the origin. Use Greens Theorem to argue G dr = G dr.

If C is any curve that doesnt pass through the origin, argue that we can wiggle C without passing through the origin so that it is just a circle that wraps around the origin k times, for some number k (possibly wrapping around clockwise or counterclockwise).

Let = C G dr, where C is the unit circle (we still have curl G = 0). If C is a curve that wraps counterclockwise around the origin k times, use the previous four parts to argue that G dr = k and
C

F dr = k.

Now let H = G F. Use the previous part to show H has the closed loop property:
C

H dr = 0

for any curve C . Conclude H is conservative, and deduce property 3.

Now that the 2-dimensional case is reasonably well-understood, we can hope to tackle the 3-dimensional case. 7

Still in the 2-dimensional case, we can now ask what the dimension of V /W would be if X is two points, or any number of points. The obvious answer is correct: the dimension of V /W counts the number of points in X, or the number of holes in R2 \ X.

If X = {(0, 0, 0)} is the origin in R3 , use Stokes theorem to show that dim V /W = 0. In other words, show that every curl-free vector field defined on R3 \ X is conservative. (Hint: show a curl-free vector field defined everywhere except the origin has the closed loop property.)

If X is the z-axis in R3 , show that dim V /W = 1. (Hints: you can use the same vector field as used for the case of the origin in R2 ; just extend the vector field to be 0 in the z-component. Then mimic the outline we used for the case of R2 \ {(0, 0)}. Everywhere you used Greens theorem in your argument for R2 \ {(0, 0)}, use Stokes theorem instead.)

Thus the 3-dimensional problem is a bit more subtle: dim V /W counts the one-dimensional holes in R3 \ X, or the number of curves in X. It ignores the zero-dimensional holes in R3 \ X (as we saw in the case of R3 \ {(0, 0, 0)}. These calculations (even the simplest 2-dimensional case that we did first) are cornerstones of the fields known as algebraic topology and differential geometry.