Differential topology

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Differential topology is the field dealing with infinitely-differentiable functions on infinitely-differentiable manifolds. It arises naturally from the study of the theory of differential equations. At every point of the manifold, there is the tangent space at that point, which consists of every possible velocity (direction and magnitude) with which it is possible to travel away from this point. For an n-dimensional manifold, the tangent space at any point is an n-dimensional vector space, or in other words a copy of Rn. The tangent space has many definitions. One definition of the tangent space is as the dual space to the linear space of all functions which are zero at that point, divided by the space of functions which are zero and have a first derivative of zero at that point. Having a zero derivative can be defined by "composition by every differentiable function to the reals has a zero derivative", so it is defined just by differentiability.

A vector field is a function from a manifold to the disjoint union of its tangent spaces, such that at each point, the value is a member of the tangent space at that point. A vector field is differentiable if for every differentiable function, applying the vector field to the function at each point yields a differentiable function. Vector fields can be thought of as time-independent differential equations. A differentiable function from the reals to the manifold is a curve on the manifold. This defines a function from the reals to the tangent spaces: the velocity of the curve at each point it passes through. A curve will be said to be a solution of the vector field if, at every point, the velocity of the curve is equal to the vector field at that point.

An alternating k-dimensional linear form is an element of the antisymmetric k'th tensor power of the dual V* of some vector space V. A differential k-form on a manifold is a choice, at each point of the manifold, of such an alternating k-form -- where V is the tangent space at that point. This will be called differentiable if whenever it operates on k differentiable vector fields, the result is a differentiable function from the manifold to the reals. A space form is a linear form with the dimensionality of the manifold.

Subareas include Symplectic topology, the study of manifolds with non-degenerate bi-linear forms.