Borel conjecture

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In mathematics, specifically geometric topology, the Borel conjecture (named for Armand Borel) asserts that an aspherical closed manifold is determined by its fundamental group, up to homeomorphism. It is a rigidity conjecture, demanding that a weak, algebraic notion of equivalence (namely, a homotopy equivalence) imply a stronger, topological notion (namely, a homeomorphism).

There is a different Borel conjecture (named for Émile Borel) in set theory. It asserts that every strong measure zero set of reals is countable. Work of Nikolai Luzin and Richard Laver shows that this conjecture is independent of the ZFC axioms. This article is about the Borel conjecture in geometric topology.

Precise formulation of the conjecture[edit]

Let M and N be closed and aspherical topological manifolds, and let

f : M \to N

be a homotopy equivalence. The Borel conjecture states that the map f is homotopic to a homeomorphism. Since aspherical manifolds with isomorphic fundamental groups are homotopy equivalent, the Borel conjecture implies that aspherical closed manifolds are determined, up to homeomorphism, by their fundamental groups.

This conjecture is false if topological manifolds and homeomorphisms are replaced by smooth manifolds and diffeomorphisms; counterexamples can be constructed by taking a connected sum with an exotic sphere.

The origin of the conjecture[edit]

In a May 1953 letter to Serre (web reference below), Armand Borel asked the question whether two aspherical manifolds with isomorphic fundamental groups are homeomorphic.

Motivation for the conjecture[edit]

A basic question is the following: if two manifolds are homotopy equivalent, are they homeomorphic? This is not true in general: there are homotopy equivalent lens spaces which are not homeomorphic.

Nevertheless, there are classes of manifolds for which homotopy equivalences between them can be homotoped to homeomorphisms. For instance, the Mostow rigidity theorem states that a homotopy equivalence between closed hyperbolic manifolds is homotopic to an isometry—in particular, to a homeomorphism. The Borel conjecture is a topological reformulation of Mostow rigidity, weakening the hypothesis from hyperbolic manifolds to aspherical manifolds, and similarly weakening the conclusion from an isometry to a homeomorphism.

Relationship to other conjectures[edit]

  • The Borel conjecture implies the Novikov conjecture for the special case in which the reference map f : M \to BG is a homotopy equivalence.
  • The Poincaré conjecture asserts that a closed manifold homotopy equivalent to S^3, the 3-sphere, is homeomorphic to S^3. This is not a special case of the Borel conjecture, because S^3 is not aspherical. Nevertheless, the Borel conjecture for the 3-torus T^3 = S^1 \times S^1 \times S^1 implies the Poincaré conjecture for S^3.


  • F.T. Farrell, The Borel conjecture. Topology of high-dimensional manifolds, No. 1, 2 (Trieste, 2001), 225–298, ICTP Lect. Notes, 9, Abdus Salam Int. Cent. Theoret. Phys., Trieste, 2002.
  • M. Kreck, and W. Lück, The Novikov conjecture. Geometry and algebra. Oberwolfach Seminars, 33. Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel, 2005.
  • The birth of the Borel conjecture, Extract from letter from Borel to Serre, 2 May 1953