Concept# Knot theory

Summary

In topology, knot theory is the study of mathematical knots. While inspired by knots which appear in daily life, such as those in shoelaces and rope, a mathematical knot differs in that the ends are joined so it cannot be undone, the simplest knot being a ring (or "unknot"). In mathematical language, a knot is an embedding of a circle in 3-dimensional Euclidean space, \mathbb{R}^3. Two mathematical knots are equivalent if one can be transformed into the other via a deformation of \mathbb{R}^3 upon itself (known as an ambient isotopy); these transformations correspond to manipulations of a knotted string that do not involve cutting it or passing it through itself.
Knots can be described in various ways. Using different description methods, there may be more than one description of the same knot. For example, a common method of describing a knot is a planar diagram called a knot diagram, in which any knot can be drawn in many different ways. Therefore, a fun

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Paolo De Los Rios, Giovanni Dietler, Erika Ercolini, Guillaume Witz

The scaling properties of DNA knots of different complexities were studied by atomic force microscope. Following two different protocols DNA knots are adsorbed onto a mica surface in regimes of (i) strong binding, that induces a kinetic trapping of the three-dimensional (3D) configuration, and of (ii) weak binding, that permits (partial) relaxation on the surface. In (i) the radius of gyration of the adsorbed DNA knot scales with the 3D Flory exponent nu = 0.60 within error. In (ii), we find nu approximate to 0.66, a value between the 3D and 2D (nu = 3/4) exponents. Evidence is also presented for the localization of knot crossings in 2D under weak adsorption conditions.

Related lectures (4)

We investigate numerical simulations and visualizations of the problem of tying a knot in a piece of rope. The goal is to use the least possible rope of a fixed, prescribed radius to tie a particular knot, e.g. a trefoil, a figure eight, and so on. The ropelength of the knot, the ratio to be minimized, is its length divided by its radius. An overview of existing algorithms to minimize the ropelength is given. They are based on different discretizations. Our work builds on the biarc discretization, for which we have developed an entire C++ library "libbiarc". The library contains a variety of tools to manipulate curves, knots or links. The biarc discretization is particularly well suited to evaluation of thickness. To compute ideal knot shapes we use simulated annealing software, which is also included in "libbiarc", on a biarc discretization. Simulated annealing is a stochastic optimization algorithm that randomly changes the point or tangent data. In the quest to find appropriate moves for this process we arrived upon a Fourier representation for knots, which allows global changes to the curve in the annealing process. Moreover, with the Fourier representation we can enforce symmetries that a given knot might have. To identify these symmetries we use visualization of simulations where symmetry was not enforced. Visualization of knot shapes and their properties is another important aspect in this work. It ranges from simple graphs of the curvature of a knot, through 2-dimensional plots of certain distance, circle or sphere functions, to 3-dimensional images of contact properties. Specially designed color gradients have been developed to emphasize crucial regions of the plots. We show that the contact set of ideal torus knots is a curve that is ambient isotopic to the knot itself, which is a result first suggested by visualization. A combination of numerics and visualization made us aware of a closed trajectory within the trefoil knot, a 9-billiard. Consequently the symmetries and the billiard make it possible to represent the trefoil with only two curve sub segments. We also anneal and visualize knot shapes in the unit 3-sphere or S3. In particular we present the contact set of a candidate for optimality, whose curved contact chords form Villarceau circles, which in turn span a Clifford torus embedded in the unit 3-sphere. Finally some knots and contact surfaces are constructed as physical 3D models using 3D printers.

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