On the Vassiliev invariants for knots and for pure braids: abstract


The study of Vassiliev knot invariants arose from Vassiliev's work on singularity theory and from the perturbative Chern-Simons theory of Witten. One reason for studying Vassiliev invariants is that they give topological ways of looking at ``quantum'' knot invariants -- that is invariants which arise by generalizing the Jones polynomial.

This thesis contains various results on Vassiliev invariants: common themes running through include their polynomial nature, their functoriality, and the use of Gauss diagrams. The first chapter examines the functoriality of Vassiliev invariants and describes how they can be defined on different types of knotty objects such as knots, framed knots and braids, and how algebraic structure naturally arises. An explicit form of the relationship between the framed and unframed knot theory is given. Chapter 2 considers the important question of whether a Vassiliev invariant can be naively obtained from a combinatorial object called a weight system. A partial answer to this is given by showing how ``half'' of the steps in such a transition can be performed canonically and explicitly. In Chapter 3 the first two non-trivial invariants for knots, evaluated on prime knots up to twelve crossing are examined, and some surprising graphs are obtained by plotting them. A number of results for torus knots are proved, relating unknotting number and crossing number to the first two Vassiliev invariants.

The second half of the thesis is concerned primarily with Vassiliev invariants of pure braids and their connection with de Rham homotopy theory. In Chapter 4 a simple derivation is given showing the relationship between Vassiliev invariants and the lower central series of the pure braid groups. This is used to obtain closed formulae for the actual number of invariants of each type. Chapter 5 is a digression on de Rham homotopy theory and explains the geometric connections between Chen's iterated integrals, higher order Albanese manifolds, and Sullivan's 1-minimal models. A method of Chen's for obtaining integral invariants of elements of the fundamental group from a 1-minimal model is given, and in Chapter 6 this is used to find Vassiliev invariants of pure braids at low order: this extends work of M.A.Berger. Finally, a similar method using currents is employed to obtain a combinatorial formula for a type two invariant which is independent of winding numbers.