In mathematics, a diffiety (/dəˈfəˌt/) is a geometrical object which plays the same role in the modern theory of partial differential equations that algebraic varieties play for algebraic equations, that is, to encode the space of solutions in a more conceptual way. It was introduced in 1984 by Alexandre Mikhailovich Vinogradov, who coined this word as portmanteau from differential variety.[1]

Intuitive definitionEdit

In algebraic geometry the main objects of study (varieties) model the space of solutions of a system of algebraic equations (i.e. the zero locus of a set of polynomials), together with all their "algebraic consequences". This means that, applying algebraic operations to this set (e.g. adding those polynomials to each other or multiplying them with any other polynomials) will give rise to the same zero locus. In other words, one can actually consider the zero locus of the algebraic ideal generated by the initial set of polynomials.

When dealing with differential equations, apart from applying algebraic operations as above, one has also the option to differentiate the starting equations, obtaining new differential constraints. Therefore, the differential analogue of a variety should be the space of solutions of a system of differential equations, together with all their "differential consequences". Instead of considering the zero locus of an algebraic ideal, one needs therefore to work with a differential ideal.

An elementary diffiety will consist therefore of the infinite prolongation  of a differential equation  , together with an extra structure provided by a special distribution. Elementary diffieties play the same role in the theory of differential equations as affine algebraic varieties do in the theory of algebraic equations. Accordingly, just like varieties or schemes are composed of irreducible affine varieties or affine schemes, one defines a (non-elementary) diffiety as an object that locally looks like an elementary diffiety.

Formal definitionEdit

The formal definition of a diffiety, which relies on the geometric approach to differential equations and their solutions, requires the notions of jets of submanifolds, prolongations, and Cartan distribution, which are recalled below.

Jet spaces of submanifoldsEdit

Let   be an  -dimensional smooth manifold. Two  -dimensional submanifolds  ,   of   are tangent up to order   at the point   if one can locally describe both submanifolds as zeroes of functions defined in a neighbourhood of  , whose derivatives at   agree up to order  .

One can show that being tangent up to order   is a coordinate-invariant notion and an equivalence relation.[2] One says also that   and   have same  -th order jet at  , and denotes their equivalence class by   or  .

The  -jet space of  -submanifolds of  , denoted by  , is defined as the set of all  -jets of  -dimensional submanifolds of   at all points of  :

As any given jet   is locally determined by the derivatives up to order   of the functions describing   around  , one can use such functions to build local coordinates   and provide   with a natural structure of smooth manifold.[2]

For instance, for   one recovers the Grassmannian of  -dimensional subspaces of  . More generally, all the projections   are fibre bundles.

  and   have the same 1-jet at   while   and   have the same 3-jet.

As a particular case, when   has a structure of fibred manifold over an  -dimensional manifold  , one can consider submanifolds of   given by the graphs of local sections of  . Then the notion of jet of submanifolds boils down to the standard notion of jet of sections, and the jet bundle   turns out to be an open and dense subset of  .[3]

Prolongations of submanifoldsEdit

The  -jet prolongation of a submanifold   is


The map   is a smooth embedding and its image  , called the prolongation of the submanifold  , is a submanifold diffeomorphic to  .

Cartan distribution on jet spacesEdit

A space of the form  , where   is any submanifold of   whose prolongation contains the point  , is called an  -plane (or jet plane, or Cartan plane) at the point  . The Cartan distribution on the jet space   is the distribution   defined by

where   is the span of all  -planes at  .

Differential equationsEdit

A differential equation of order   on the manifold   is a submanifold  ; a solution is defined to be an  -dimensional submanifold   such that  . When   is a fibred manifold over  , one recovers the notion of partial differential equations on jet bundles and their solutions, which provide a coordinate-free way to describe the analogous notions of mathematical analysis. While jet bundles are enough to deal with many equations arising in geometry, jet spaces of submanifolds provide a greater generality, used to tackle several PDEs imposed on submanifolds of a given manifold, such as Lagrangian submanifolds and minimal surfaces.

As in the jet bundle case, the Cartan distribution is important in the algebro-geometric approach to differential equations because it allows to encode solutions in purely geometric terms. Indeed, a submanifold   is a solution if and only if   for all  .

One can also look at the Cartan distribution of a PDE   more intrinsically, defining


In this sense, the pair   encodes the information about the solutions of the differential equation  .

Prolongations of PDEsEdit

Given a differential equation   of order  , its  -th prolongation is defined as


where both   and   are viewed as embedded submanifolds of  , so that their intersection is well-defined. However, such an intersection is not necessarily a manifold again, hence   may not be an equation of order  . One therefore usually requires   to be "nice enough" such that at least its first prolongation is indeed a submanifold of  .

From now we will ask that all prolongations   are smooth manifolds and all projections   are smooth surjective submersions. Then the inverse limit of such sequence extends the definition of prolongation to the case this definition to

Below we will assume that all prolongations   are smooth manifolds and all projections   are smooth surjective submersions. Then the inverse limit of such sequence extends the definition of prolongation to the case when   goes to infinity, and the space   has the structure of a profinite-dimensional manifold.

Definition of a diffietyEdit

An elementary diffiety is a pair   where   is a  -th order differential equation on some manifold,   its infinite prolongation and   its Cartan distribution. Note that, unlike in the finite case, one can show that the Cartan distribution   is  -dimensional and involutive.

A diffiety is a triple  , consisting of

  • a (generally infinite-dimensional) manifold  
  • the algebra of its smooth functions  
  • a finite-dimensional distribution  ,

such that   is locally of the form  , where   is an elementary diffiety and   denotes the algebra of smooth functions on  . Here locally means a suitable localisation with respect to the Zariski topology corresponding to the algebra  .

The dimension of   is called dimension of the diffiety and its denoted by  , with a capital D (to distinguish it from the dimension of   as a manifold).

Morphisms of diffietiesEdit

A morphism between two diffieties   and   consists of a smooth map   whose pushforward preserves the Cartan distribution, i.e. such that, for every point  , one has  .

Diffieties together with their morphisms define the category of differential equations.[3]


Vinogradov sequenceEdit

The Vinogradov  -spectral sequence (or, for short, Vinogradov sequence) is a spectral sequence associated to a diffiety, which can be used to investigate certain properties of the formal solution space of a differential equation by exploiting its Cartan distribution  .[4]

Given a diffiety  , consider the algebra of differential forms over  


and the corresponding de Rham complex:


Its cohomology groups   contain some structural information about the PDE; however, due to the Poincaré Lemma, they all vanish locally. In order to extract much more and even local information, one thus needs to take the Cartan distribution into account and introduce a more sophisticated sequence. To this end, let


be the submodule of differential forms over   whose restriction to the distribution   vanishes, i.e.


Note that   is actually a differential ideal since it is stable w.r.t. to the de Rham differential, i.e.  .

Now let   be its  -th power, i.e. the linear subspace of   generated by  . Then one obtains a filtration


and since all ideals   are stable, this filtration completely determines the following spectral sequence:


The filtration above is finite in each degree, i.e. for every  


so that the spectral sequence converges to the de Rham cohomology   of the diffiety. One can therefore analyse the terms of the spectral sequence order by order to recover information on the original PDE. For instance:[5]

  •   corresponds to action functionals constrained by the PDE  . In particular, for  , the corresponding Euler-Lagrange equation is  .
  •   corresponds to conservation laws for solutions of  .
  •   is interpreted as characteristic classes of bordisms of solutions of  .

Many higher-order terms do not have an interpretation yet.

Variational bicomplexEdit

As a particular case, starting with a fibred manifold   and its jet bundle   instead of the jet space  , instead of the  -spectral sequence one obtains the slightly less general variational bicomplex. More precisely, any bicomplex determines two spectral sequences: one of the two spectral sequences determined by the variational bicomplex is exactly the Vinogradov  -spectral sequence. However, the variational bicomplex was developed independently from the Vinogradov sequence.[6][7]

Similarly to the terms of the spectral sequence, many terms of the variational bicomplex can be given a physical interpretation in classical field theory: for example, one obtains cohomology classes corresponding to action functionals, conserved currents, gauge charges, etc.[8]

Secondary CalculusEdit

Vinogradov developed a theory, known as secondary calculus, to formalise in cohomological terms the idea of a differential calculus on the space of solutions of a given system of PDEs (i.e. the space of integral manifolds of a given diffiety).[9][10][11][3]

In other words, secondary calculus provides substitutes for vector fields, differential forms, differential operators, etc., on a (generically) very singular space where these objects cannot be defined in the usual (smooth) way.[12]

Secondary calculus can also be related to the covariant Phase Space, i.e. the solution space of the Euler-Lagrange equations associated to a Lagrangian field theory.[13]

See alsoEdit

Another way of generalizing ideas from algebraic geometry is differential algebraic geometry.


  1. ^ Vinogradov, A. M. (March 1984). "Local symmetries and conservation laws". Acta Applicandae Mathematicae. 2 (1): 21–78. doi:10.1007/BF01405491. ISSN 0167-8019.
  2. ^ a b Saunders, D. J. (1989). The Geometry of Jet Bundles. London Mathematical Society Lecture Note Series. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/cbo9780511526411. ISBN 978-0-521-36948-0.
  3. ^ a b c Vinogradov, A. M. (2001). Cohomological analysis of partial differential equations and secondary calculus. Providence, R.I.: American Mathematical Society. ISBN 0-8218-2922-X. OCLC 47296188.
  4. ^ Vinogradov, A. M. (1978). "A spectral sequence associated with a nonlinear differential equation and algebro-geometric foundations of Lagrangian field theory with constraints". Soviet Math. Dokl. (in Russian). 19: 144–148 – via Math-Net.Ru.
  5. ^ Symmetries and conservation laws for differential equations of mathematical physics. A. V. Bocharov, I. S. Krasilʹshchik, A. M. Vinogradov. Providence, R.I.: American Mathematical Society. 1999. ISBN 978-1-4704-4596-6. OCLC 1031947580.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  6. ^ Tulczyjew, W. M. (1980). García, P. L.; Pérez-Rendón, A.; Souriau, J. M. (eds.). "The Euler-Lagrange resolution". Differential Geometrical Methods in Mathematical Physics. Lecture Notes in Mathematics. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer: 22–48. doi:10.1007/BFb0089725. ISBN 978-3-540-38405-2.
  7. ^ Tsujishita, Toru (1982). "On variation bicomplexes associated to differential equations". Osaka Journal of Mathematics. 19 (2): 311–363. ISSN 0030-6126.
  8. ^ "variational bicomplex in nLab". ncatlab.org. Retrieved 2021-12-11.
  9. ^ Vinogradov, A.M. (1984-04-30). "The b-spectral sequence, Lagrangian formalism, and conservation laws. I. The linear theory". Journal of Mathematical Analysis and Applications. 100 (1): 1–40. doi:10.1016/0022-247X(84)90071-4.
  10. ^ Vinogradov, A. M. (1984-04-30). "The b-spectral sequence, Lagrangian formalism, and conservation laws. II. The nonlinear theory". Journal of Mathematical Analysis and Applications. 100 (1): 41–129. doi:10.1016/0022-247X(84)90072-6. ISSN 0022-247X.
  11. ^ Henneaux, Marc; Krasil′shchik, Joseph; Vinogradov, Alexandre, eds. (1998). Secondary Calculus and Cohomological Physics. Contemporary Mathematics. Vol. 219. Providence, Rhode Island: American Mathematical Society. doi:10.1090/conm/219. ISBN 978-0-8218-0828-3.
  12. ^ Vitagliano, Luca (2014). "On the strong homotopy Lie–Rinehart algebra of a foliation". Communications in Contemporary Mathematics. 16 (06): 1450007. doi:10.1142/S0219199714500072. ISSN 0219-1997.
  13. ^ Vitagliano, Luca (2009-04-01). "Secondary calculus and the covariant phase space". Journal of Geometry and Physics. 59 (4): 426–447. doi:10.1016/j.geomphys.2008.12.001. ISSN 0393-0440.

External linksEdit

  • The Diffiety Institute (frozen since 2010)
  • The Levi-Civita Institute (successor of above site)
  • Geometry of Differential Equations