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In mathematics, the **braid group on n strands** (denoted ), also known as the

In this introduction let *n* = 4; the generalization to other values of *n* will be straightforward. Consider two sets of four items lying on a table, with the items in each set being arranged in a vertical line, and such that one set sits next to the other. (In the illustrations below, these are the black dots.) Using four strands, each item of the first set is connected with an item of the second set so that a one-to-one correspondence results. Such a connection is called a *braid*. Often some strands will have to pass over or under others, and this is crucial: the following two connections are *different* braids:

is different from |

On the other hand, two such connections which can be made to look the same by "pulling the strands" are considered *the same* braid:

is the same as |

All strands are required to move from left to right; knots like the following are *not* considered braids:

is not a braid |

Any two braids can be *composed* by drawing the first next to the second, identifying the four items in the middle, and connecting corresponding strands:

composed with | yields |

Another example:

composed with | yields |

The composition of the braids σ and τ is written as στ.

The set of all braids on four strands is denoted by . The above composition of braids is indeed a group operation. The identity element is the braid consisting of four parallel horizontal strands, and the inverse of a braid consists of that braid which "undoes" whatever the first braid did, which is obtained by flipping a diagram such as the ones above across a vertical line going through its centre. (The first two example braids above are inverses of each other.)

Braid theory has recently been applied to fluid mechanics, specifically to the field of chaotic mixing in fluid flows. The braiding of (2 + 1)-dimensional space-time trajectories formed by motion of physical rods, periodic orbits or "ghost rods", and almost-invariant sets has been used to estimate the topological entropy of several engineered and naturally occurring fluid systems, via the use of Nielsen–Thurston classification.^{[3]}^{[4]}^{[5]}

Another field of intense investigation involving braid groups and related topological concepts in the context of quantum physics is in the theory and (conjectured) experimental implementation of the proposed particles anyons. These may well end up forming the basis for error-corrected quantum computing and so their abstract study is currently of fundamental importance in quantum information.

To put the above informal discussion of braid groups on firm ground, one needs to use the homotopy concept of algebraic topology, defining braid groups as fundamental groups of a configuration space. Alternatively, one can define the braid group purely algebraically via the braid relations, keeping the pictures in mind only to guide the intuition.

To explain how to reduce a braid group in the sense of Artin to a fundamental group, we consider a connected manifold of dimension at least 2. The *symmetric product* of copies of means the quotient of , the -fold Cartesian product of by the permutation action of the symmetric group on strands operating on the indices of coordinates. That is, an ordered -tuple is in the same orbit as any other that is a re-ordered version of it.

A path in the -fold symmetric product is the abstract way of discussing points of , considered as an unordered -tuple, independently tracing out strings. Since we must require that the strings never pass through each other, it is necessary that we pass to the subspace of the symmetric product, of orbits of -tuples of *distinct* points. That is, we remove all the subspaces of defined by conditions for all . This is invariant under the symmetric group, and is the quotient by the symmetric group of the non-excluded -tuples. Under the dimension condition will be connected.

With this definition, then, we can call **the braid group of with strings** the fundamental group of (for any choice of base point – this is well-defined up to isomorphism). The case where is the Euclidean plane is the original one of Artin. In some cases it can be shown that the higher homotopy groups of are trivial.

When *X* is the plane, the braid can be *closed*, i.e., corresponding ends can be connected in pairs, to form a link, i.e., a possibly intertwined union of possibly knotted loops in three dimensions. The number of components of the link can be anything from 1 to *n*, depending on the permutation of strands determined by the link. A theorem of J. W. Alexander demonstrates that every link can be obtained in this way as the "closure" of a braid. Compare with string links.

Different braids can give rise to the same link, just as different crossing diagrams can give rise to the same knot. In 1935, Andrey Markov Jr. described two moves on braid diagrams that yield equivalence in the corresponding closed braids.^{[6]} A single-move version of Markov's theorem, was published by in 1997.^{[7]}

Vaughan Jones originally defined his polynomial as a braid invariant and then showed that it depended only on the class of the closed braid.

The Markov theorem gives necessary and sufficient conditions under which the closures of two braids are equivalent links.^{[8]}

The "braid index" is the least number of strings needed to make a closed braid representation of a link. It is equal to the least number of Seifert circles in any projection of a knot.^{[9]}

Braid groups were introduced explicitly by Emil Artin in 1925, although (as Wilhelm Magnus pointed out in 1974^{[10]}) they were already implicit in Adolf Hurwitz's work on monodromy from 1891.

Braid groups may be described by explicit presentations, as was shown by Emil Artin in 1947.^{[11]} Braid groups are also understood by a deeper mathematical interpretation: as the fundamental group of certain configuration spaces.^{[11]}

As Magnus says, Hurwitz gave the interpretation of a braid group as the fundamental group of a configuration space (cf. braid theory), an interpretation that was lost from view until it was rediscovered by Ralph Fox and Lee Neuwirth in 1962.^{[12]}

Consider the following three braids:

Every braid in can be written as a composition of a number of these braids and their inverses. In other words, these three braids generate the group . To see this, an arbitrary braid is scanned from left to right for crossings; beginning at the top, whenever a crossing of strands and is encountered, or is written down, depending on whether strand moves under or over strand . Upon reaching the right end, the braid has been written as a product of the 's and their inverses.

It is clear that

- (i) ,

while the following two relations are not quite as obvious:

- (iia) ,
- (iib)

(these relations can be appreciated best by drawing the braid on a piece of paper). It can be shown that all other relations among the braids , and already follow from these relations and the group axioms.

Generalising this example to strands, the group can be abstractly defined via the following presentation:

where in the first group of relations and in the second group of relations, . This presentation leads to generalisations of braid groups called Artin groups. The cubic relations, known as the **braid relations**, play an important role in the theory of Yang–Baxter equations.

- The braid group is trivial, is the infinite cyclic group , and is isomorphic to the knot group of the trefoil knot – in particular, it is an infinite non-abelian group.
- The
*n*-strand braid group embeds as a subgroup into the -strand braid group by adding an extra strand that does not cross any of the first*n*strands. The increasing union of the braid groups with all is the**infinite braid group**. - All non-identity elements of have infinite order; i.e., is torsion-free.
- There is a left-invariant linear order on called the Dehornoy order.
- For , contains a subgroup isomorphic to the free group on two generators.
- There is a homomorphism defined by σ
_{i}↦ 1. So for instance, the braid σ_{2}σ_{3}σ_{1}^{−1}σ_{2}σ_{3}is mapped to 1 + 1 − 1 + 1 + 1 = 3. This map corresponds to the abelianization of the braid group. Since σ_{i}^{k}↦ k, then σ_{i}^{k}is the identity if and only if . This proves that the generators have infinite order.

By forgetting how the strands twist and cross, every braid on *n* strands determines a permutation on *n* elements. This assignment is onto and compatible with composition, and therefore becomes a surjective group homomorphism *B _{n}* →

The kernel of the homomorphism *B _{n}* →

This sequence splits and therefore pure braid groups are realized as iterated semi-direct products of free groups.

The braid group is the universal central extension of the modular group , with these sitting as lattices inside the (topological) universal covering group

- .

Furthermore, the modular group has trivial center, and thus the modular group is isomorphic to the quotient group of modulo its center, and equivalently, to the group of inner automorphisms of .

Here is a construction of this isomorphism. Define

- .

From the braid relations it follows that . Denoting this latter product as , one may verify from the braid relations that

implying that is in the center of . Let denote the subgroup of generated by *c*, since *C* ⊂ *Z*(*B*_{3}), it is a normal subgroup and one may take the quotient group *B*_{3}/*C*. We claim *B*_{3}/*C* ≅ PSL(2, **Z**); this isomorphism can be given an explicit form. The cosets σ_{1}*C* and σ_{2}*C* map to

where *L* and *R* are the standard left and right moves on the Stern–Brocot tree; it is well known that these moves generate the modular group.

Alternately, one common presentation for the modular group is

where

Mapping *a* to *v* and *b* to *p* yields a surjective group homomorphism *B*_{3} → PSL(2, **Z**).

The center of *B*_{3} is equal to *C*, a consequence of the facts that *c* is in the center, the modular group has trivial center, and the above surjective homomorphism has kernel *C*.

The braid group *B _{n}* can be shown to be isomorphic to the mapping class group of a punctured disk with

Via this mapping class group interpretation of braids, each braid may be classified as periodic, reducible or pseudo-Anosov.

If a braid is given and one connects the first left-hand item to the first right-hand item using a new string, the second left-hand item to the second right-hand item etc. (without creating any braids in the new strings), one obtains a link, and sometimes a knot. Alexander's theorem in braid theory states that the converse is true as well: every knot and every link arises in this fashion from at least one braid; such a braid can be obtained by cutting the link. Since braids can be concretely given as words in the generators σ_{i}, this is often the preferred method of entering knots into computer programs.

The word problem for the braid relations is efficiently solvable and there exists a normal form for elements of *B _{n}* in terms of the generators σ

In addition to the word problem, there are several known hard computational problems that could implement braid groups, applications in cryptography have been suggested.^{[13]}

In analogy with the action of the symmetric group by permutations, in various mathematical settings there exists a natural action of the braid group on *n*-tuples of objects or on the *n*-folded tensor product that involves some "twists". Consider an arbitrary group *G* and let *X* be the set of all *n*-tuples of elements of *G* whose product is the identity element of *G*. Then *B _{n}* acts on

Thus the elements *x _{i}* and

Elements of the braid group *B _{n}* can be represented more concretely by matrices. One classical such representation is Burau representation, where the matrix entries are single variable Laurent polynomials. It had been a long-standing question whether Burau representation was faithful, but the answer turned out to be negative for

There are many ways to generalize this notion to an infinite number of strands. The simplest way is to take the direct limit of braid groups, where the attaching maps send the generators of to the first generators of (i.e., by attaching a trivial strand). This group, however, admits no metrizable topology while remaining continuous.

Paul Fabel has shown that there are two topologies that can be imposed on the resulting group each of whose completion yields a different group.^{[15]} The first is a very tame group and is isomorphic to the mapping class group of the infinitely punctured disk—a discrete set of punctures limiting to the boundary of the disk.

The second group can be thought of the same as with finite braid groups. Place a strand at each of the points and the set of all braids—where a braid is defined to be a collection of paths from the points to the points so that the function yields a permutation on endpoints—is isomorphic to this wilder group. An interesting fact is that the pure braid group in this group is isomorphic to both the inverse limit of finite pure braid groups and to the fundamental group of the Hilbert cube minus the set

The cohomology of a group is defined as the cohomology of the corresponding Eilenberg–MacLane classifying space, , which is a CW complex uniquely determined by up to homotopy. A classifying space for the braid group is the `n`^{th} unordered configuration space of , that is, the set of distinct unordered points in the plane:^{[16]}

- .

So by definition

The calculations for coefficients in can be found in Fuks (1970).^{[17]}

Similarly, a classifying space for the pure braid group is , the `n`^{th} *ordered* configuration space of . In 1968 Vladimir Arnold showed that the integral cohomology of the pure braid group is the quotient of the exterior algebra generated by the collection of degree-one classes , subject to the relations^{[18]}

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