In mathematics, in particular the subfield of algebraic geometry, a rational map is a kind of partial function between algebraic varieties. This article uses the convention that varieties are irreducible.
Formally, a rational map between two varieties is an equivalence class of pairs in which is a morphism of varieties from an open set to , and two such pairs and are considered equivalent if and coincide on the intersection (this is, in particular, vacuously true if the intersection is empty, but since is assumed irreducible, this is impossible). The proof that this defines an equivalence relation relies on the following lemma:
- If two morphisms of varieties are equal on some non-empty open set, then they are equal.
is said to be birational if there exists a rational map which is its inverse, where the composition is taken in the above sense.
The importance of rational maps to algebraic geometry is in the connection between such maps and maps between the function fields of and . Even a cursory examination of the definitions reveals a similarity between that of rational map and that of rational function; in fact, a rational function is just a rational map whose range is the projective line. Composition of functions then allows us to "pull back" rational functions along a rational map, so that a single rational map induces a homomorphism of fields . In particular, the following theorem is central: the functor from the category of projective varieties with dominant rational maps (over a fixed base field, for example ) to the category of finitely generated field extensions of the base field with reverse inclusion of extensions as morphisms, which associates each variety to its function field and each map to the associated map of function fields, is an equivalence of categories.
An example of birational equivalence
Two varieties are said to be birationally equivalent if there exists a birational map between them; this theorem states that birational equivalence of varieties is identical to isomorphism of their function fields as extensions of the base field. This is somewhat more liberal than the notion of isomorphism of varieties (which requires a globally defined morphism to witness the isomorphism, not merely a rational map), in that there exist varieties which are birational but not isomorphic.
The usual example is that is birational to the variety contained in consisting of the set of projective points such that , but not isomorphic. Indeed, any two lines in intersect, but the lines in defined by and cannot intersect since their intersection would have all coordinates zero. To compute the function field of we pass to an affine subset (which does not change the field, a manifestation of the fact that a rational map depends only on its behavior in any open subset of its domain) in which ; in projective space this means we may take and therefore identify this subset with the affine -plane. There, the coordinate ring of is
via the map . And the field of fractions of the latter is just , isomorphic to that of . Note that at no time did we actually produce a rational map, though tracing through the proof of the theorem it is possible to do so.