Surgery exact sequence

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In the mathematical surgery theory the surgery exact sequence is the main technical tool to calculate the surgery structure set of a compact manifold in dimension . The surgery structure set of a compact -dimensional manifold is a pointed set which classifies -dimensional manifolds within the homotopy type of .

The basic idea is that in order to calculate it is enough to understand the other terms in the sequence, which are usually easier to determine. These are on one hand the normal invariants which form generalized cohomology groups, and hence one can use standard tools of algebraic topology to calculate them at least in principle. On the other hand, there are the L-groups which are defined algebraically in terms of quadratic forms or in terms of chain complexes with quadratic structure. A great deal is known about these groups. Another part of the sequence are the surgery obstruction maps from normal invariants to the L-groups. For these maps there are certain characteristic classes formulas, which enable to calculate them in some cases. Knowledge of these three components, that means: the normal maps, the L-groups and the surgery obstruction maps is enough to determine the structure set (at least up to extension problems).

In practice one has to proceed case by case, for each manifold it is a unique task to determine the surgery exact sequence, see some examples below. Also note that there are versions of the surgery exact sequence depending on the category of manifolds we work with: smooth (DIFF), PL, or topological manifolds and whether we take Whitehead torsion into account or not (decorations or ).

The original 1962 work of Browder and Novikov on the existence and uniqueness of manifolds within a simply-connected homotopy type was reformulated by Sullivan in 1966 as a surgery exact sequence. In 1970 Wall developed non-simply-connected surgery theory and the surgery exact sequence for manifolds with arbitrary fundamental group.


The surgery exact sequence is defined as


the entries and are the abelian groups of normal invariants,

the entries and are the L-groups associated to the group ring ,

the maps and are the surgery obstruction maps,

the arrows and will be explained below.


There are various versions of the surgery exact sequence. One can work in either of the three categories of manifolds: differentiable (smooth), PL, topological. Another possibility is to work with the decorations or .

The entries[edit]

Normal invariants[edit]

A degree one normal map consists of the following data: an -dimensional oriented closed manifold , a map which is of degree one (that means , and a bundle map from the stable tangent bundle of to some bundle over . Two such maps are equivalent if there exists a normal bordism between them (that means a bordism of the sources covered by suitable bundle data). The equivalence classes of degree one normal maps are called normal invariants.

When defined like this the normal invariants are just a pointed set, with the base point given by . However the Pontrjagin-Thom construction gives a structure of an abelian group. In fact we have a non-natural bijection

where denotes the homotopy fiber of the map , which is an infinite loop space and hence maps into it define a generalized cohomology theory. There are corresponding identifications of the normal invariants with when working with PL-manifolds and with when working with topological manifolds.


The -groups are defined algebraically in terms of quadratic forms or in terms of chain complexes with quadratic structure. See the main article for more details. Here only the properties of the L-groups described below will be important.

Surgery obstruction maps[edit]

The map is in the first instance a set-theoretic map (that means not necessarily a homomorphism) with the following property (when :

A degree one normal map is normally cobordant to a homotopy equivalence if and only if the image in .

The normal invariants arrow [edit]

Any homotopy equivalence defines a degree one normal map.

The surgery obstruction arrow [edit]

This arrow describes in fact an action of the group on the set rather than just a map. The definition is based on the realization theorem for the elements of the -groups which reads as follows:

Let be an -dimensional manifold with and let . Then there exists a degree one normal map of manifolds with boundary

with the following properties:


2. is a diffeomorphism

3. is a homotopy equivalence of closed manifolds

Let represent an element in and let . Then is defined as .

The exactness[edit]

Recall that the surgery structure set is only a pointed set and that the surgery obstruction map might not be a homomorphism. Hence it is necessary to explain what is meant when talking about the "exact sequence". So the surgery exact sequence is an exact sequence in the following sense:

For a normal invariant we have if and only if . For two manifold structures we have if and only if there exists such that . For an element we have if and only if .

Versions revisited[edit]

In the topological category the surgery obstruction map can be made into a homomorphism. This is achieved by putting an alternative abelian group structure on the normal invariants as described here. Moreover, the surgery exact sequence can be identified with the algebraic surgery exact sequence of Ranicki which is an exact sequence of abelian groups by definition. This gives the structure set the structure of an abelian group. Note, however, that there is to this date no satisfactory geometric description of this abelian group structure.

Classification of manifolds[edit]

The answer to the organizing questions of the surgery theory can be formulated in terms of the surgery exact sequence. In both cases the answer is given in the form of a two-stage obstruction theory.

The existence question. Let be a finite Poincaré complex. It is homotopy equivalent to a manifold if and only if the following two conditions are satisfied. Firstly, must have a vector bundle reduction of its Spivak normal fibration. This condition can be also formulated as saying that the set of normal invariants is non-empty. Secondly, there must be a normal invariant such that . Equivalently, the surgery obstruction map hits .

The uniqueness question. Let and represent two elements in the surgery structure set . The question whether they represent the same element can be answered in two stages as follows. First there must be a normal cobordism between the degree one normal maps induced by and , this means in . Denote the normal cobordism . If the surgery obstruction in to make this normal cobordism to an h-cobordism (or s-cobordism) relative to the boundary vanishes then and in fact represent the same element in the surgery structure set.


1. Homotopy spheres[edit]

This is an example in the smooth category, .

The idea of the surgery exact sequence is implicitly present already in the original article of Kervaire and Milnor on the groups of homotopy spheres. In the present terminology we have

the cobordism group of almost framed manifolds,

where mod (recall the -periodicity of the L-groups)

The surgery exact sequence in this case is an exact sequence of abelian groups. In addition to the above identifications we have

Because the odd-dimensional L-groups are trivial one obtains these exact sequences:

The results of Kervaire and Milnor are obtained by studying the middle map in the first two sequences and by relating the groups to stable homotopy theory.

2. Topological spheres[edit]

The generalized Poincaré conjecture in dimension can be phrased as saying that . It has been proved for any by the work of Smale, Freedman and Perelman. From the surgery exact sequence for for in the topological category we see that

is an isomorphism. (In fact this can be extended to by some ad-hoc methods.)

3. Complex projective spaces in the topological category[edit]

The complex projective space is a -dimensional topological manifold with . In addition it is known that in the case in the topological category the surgery obstruction map is always surjective. Hence we have

From the work of Sullivan one can calculate

and hence

4. Aspherical manifolds in the topological category[edit]

An aspherical -dimensional manifold is an -manifold such that for . Hence the only non-trivial homotopy group is

One way to state the Borel conjecture is to say that for such we have that the Whitehead group is trivial and that

This conjecture was proven in many special cases - for example when is , when it is the fundamental group of a negatively curved manifold or when it is a word-hyperbolic group or a CAT(0)-group.

The statement is equivalent to showing that the surgery obstruction map to the right of the surgery structure set is injective and the surgery obstruction map to the left of the surgery structure set is surjective. Most of the proofs of the above-mentioned results are done by studying these maps or by studying the assembly maps with which they can be identified. See more details in Borel conjecture, Farrell-Jones Conjecture.