Nerve of a covering

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In topology, the nerve of an open covering is a construction of an abstract simplicial complex from an open covering of a topological space X.

The notion of nerve was introduced by Pavel Alexandrov.[1]

Given an index set I, and open sets Ui contained in X, the nerve N is the set of finite subsets of I defined as follows:

  • a finite set JI belongs to N if and only if the intersection of the Ui whose subindices are in J is non-empty. That is, if and only if

Obviously, if J belongs to N, then any of its subsets is also in N. Therefore N is an abstract simplicial complex.

In general, the complex N need not reflect the topology of X accurately. For example we can cover any n-sphere with two contractible sets U and V, in such a way that N is an abstract 1-simplex. However, if we also insist that the open sets corresponding to every intersection indexed by a set in N is also contractible, the situation changes. This means for instance that a circle covered by three open arcs, intersecting in pairs in one arc, is modelled by a homeomorphic complex, the geometrical realization of N.


  1. ^ Aleksandroff, P. S. (1928). "Über den allgemeinen Dimensionsbegriff und seine Beziehungen zur elementaren geometrischen Anschauung". Mathematische Annalen. 98: 617–635. doi:10.1007/BF01451612. 


  • Samuel Eilenberg and Norman Steenrod: Foundations of Algebraic Topology, Princeton University Press, 1952, p. 234.