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Topology

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Topology (Greek topos, "place," and logos, "study") is a branch of mathematics that is an extension of geometry. Topology begins with a consideration of the nature of space, investigating both its fine structure and its global structure. Topology builds on set theory, considering both sets of points and families of sets.

The word topology is used both for the area of study and for a family of sets with certain properties described below that are used to define a topological space. Of particular importance in the study of topology are functions or maps that are homeomorphisms. Informally, these functions can be thought of as those that stretch space without tearing it apart or sticking distinct parts together.

When the discipline was first properly founded, toward the end of the 19th century, it was called geometria situs (Latin geometry of place) and analysis situs (Latin analysis of place). From around 1925 to 1975 it was an important growth area within mathematics.

Topology is a large branch of mathematics that includes many subfields. The most basic division within topology is point-set topology, which investigates such concepts as compactness, connectedness, and countability; algebraic topology, which investigates such concepts as homotopy and homology; and geometric topology, which studies manifolds and their embeddings, including knot theory.

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A manifold is an abstract mathematical space in which every point has a neighborhood which resembles Euclidean space, but in which the global structure may be more complicated. In discussing manifolds, the idea of dimension is important. For example, lines are one-dimensional, and planes two-dimensional.

In a one-dimensional manifold (or one-manifold), every point has a neighborhood that looks like a segment of a line. Examples of one-manifolds include a line, a circle (shown right), and two separate circles. In a two-manifold, every point has a neighborhood that looks like a disk. Examples include a plane, the surface of a sphere, and the surface of a torus.

Manifolds are important objects in mathematics and physics because they allow more complicated structures to be expressed and understood in terms of the relatively well-understood properties of simpler spaces.

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It is often suggested that a topologist cannot tell the difference between a coffee cup and a doughnut. This is because these objects when thought of as topological spaces are homeomorphic. The above picture depicts a continuous deformation of a coffee cup into a doughnut such that at each stage the object is homeomorphic to the original.

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