Spectrum (homotopy theory)


algebraic topology 250px, A torus, one of the most frequently studied objects in algebraic topology Algebraic topology is a branch of mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), mathemat ...
, a branch of
mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers ( and ), formulas and related structures (), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (), and quantities and their changes ( and ). There is no general consensus abo ...
, a spectrum is an object representing a
generalized cohomology theory In mathematics, specifically in homology theory and algebraic topology, cohomology is a general term for a sequence of abelian groups associated to a topological space, often defined from a cochain complex. Cohomology can be viewed as a method of as ...
(which follows from
Brown's representability theorem In mathematics, Brown's representability theorem in homotopy theory gives necessary and sufficient conditions for a contravariant functor ''F'' on the homotopy category ''Hotc'' of pointed connected CW complexes, to the category of sets Set, to be a ...
). This means that, given a cohomology theory
\mathcal^*:\text^ \to \text,
there exist spaces E^k such that evaluating the cohomology theory in degree k on a space X is equivalent to computing the homotopy classes of maps to the space E^k, that is
\mathcal^k(X) \cong \left[X, E^k\right].
Note there are several different category (mathematics), categories of spectra leading to many technical difficulties, but they all determine the same homotopy category, known as the stable homotopy category. This is one of the key points for introducing spectra because they form a natural home for stable homotopy theory.

The definition of a spectrum

There are many variations of the definition: in general, a ''spectrum'' is any sequence X_n of pointed topological spaces or pointed simplicial sets together with the structure maps S^1 \wedge X_n \to X_ giving homotopy equivalences. The treatment here is due to Frank Adams (1974): a spectrum (or CW-spectrum) is a sequence E:= \_ of CW complexes together with inclusions \Sigma E_n \to E_ of the suspension (topology), suspension \Sigma E_n as a subcomplex of E_ . For other definitions, see symmetric spectrum and simplicial spectrum.

Homotopy groups of a spectrum

One of the most important invariants of spectra are the homotopy groups of the spectrum. These groups mirror the definition of the stable homotopy groups of spaces since the structure of the suspension maps is integral in its definition. Given a spectrum E define the homotopy group \pi_n(E) as the colimit
\begin \pi_n(E) &= \lim_ \pi_(E_k) \\ &= \lim_\to \left(\cdots \to \pi_(E_k) \to \pi_(E_) \to \cdots\right) \end
where the maps are induced from the composition of the suspension map
\Sigma: E_n \to \Sigma E_n
and the structure map
\Sigma E_n \to E_
A spectrum is said to be connective spectrum, connective if its \pi_k are zero for negative ''k''.


Eilenberg–Maclane spectrum

Consider singular cohomology H^n(X;A) with coefficients in an abelian group A. For a CW complex X, the group H^n(X;A) can be identified with the set of homotopy classes of maps from X to K(A,n), the Eilenberg–MacLane space with homotopy concentrated in degree n. We write this as
[X,K(A,n)] = H^n(X;A)
Then the corresponding spectrum HA has n-th space K(A,n); it is called the Eilenberg–MacLane spectrum. Note this construction can be used to embed any ring R into the category of spectra. This embedding forms the basis of used Spectral geometry as a model for Derived algebraic geometry. One of the important properties found in this embedding are the isomorphisms
\begin \pi_i( H(R/I) \wedge_R H(R/J) ) &\cong H_i\left(R/I\otimes^R/J\right)\\ &\cong \operatorname_i^R(R/I,R/J) \end
showing the category of spectra keeps track of the derived information of commutative rings, where the smash product acts as the derived tensor product. Moreover, the Eilenberg–Maclane spectrum can be used to define theories such as Topological Hochschild homology for commutative rings, which gives a more refined theory of the classical Hochschild homology.

Topological complex K-theory

As a second important example, consider topological K-theory. At least for ''X'' compact, K^0(X) is defined to be the Grothendieck group of the monoid of complex vector bundles on ''X''. Also, K^1(X) is the group corresponding to vector bundles on the suspension of X. Topological K-theory is a generalized cohomology theory, so it gives a spectrum. The zeroth space is \mathbb \times BU while the first space is U. Here U is the infinite unitary group and BU is its classifying space. By Bott periodicity we get K^(X) \cong K^0(X) and K^(X) \cong K^1(X) for all ''n'', so all the spaces in the topological K-theory spectrum are given by either \mathbb \times BU or U. There is a corresponding construction using real vector bundles instead of complex vector bundles, which gives an 8-periodic spectrum.

Sphere spectrum

One of the quintessential examples of a spectrum is the sphere spectrum \mathbb. This is a spectrum whose homotopy groups are given by the stable homotopy groups of spheres, so
\pi_n(\mathbb) = \pi_n^
We can write down this spectrum explicitly as \mathbb_i = S^i where \mathbb_0 = \. Note the smash product gives a product structure on this spectrum
S^n \wedge S^m \simeq S^
induces a ring structure on \mathbb. Moreover, if considering the category of Symmetric spectrum, symmetric spectra, this forms the initial object, analogous to \mathbb in the category of commutative rings.

Thom spectra

Another canonical example of spectra come from the Thom spectrum, Thom spectra representing various cobordism theories. This includes real cobordism MO, complex cobordism MU, framed cobordism, spin cobordism MSpin, string cobordism MString, and Whitehead tower, so on. In fact, for any topological group G there is a Thom spectrum MG.

Suspension spectrum

A spectrum may be constructed out of a space. The suspension spectrum of a space X, denoted \Sigma^\infty X is a spectrum X_n = S^n \wedge X (the structure maps are the identity.) For example, the suspension spectrum of the 0-sphere is the sphere spectrum discussed above. The homotopy groups of this spectrum are then the stable homotopy groups of X, so
\pi_n(\Sigma^\infty X) = \pi_n^\mathbb(X)
The construction of the suspension spectrum implies every space can be considered as a cohomology theory. In fact, it defines a functor
\Sigma^\infty:h\text \to h\text
from the homotopy category of CW complexes to the homotopy category of spectra. The morphisms are given by
[\Sigma^\infty X, \Sigma^\infty Y] = \underset[\Sigma^nX,\Sigma^nY]
which by the Freudenthal suspension theorem eventually stabilizes. By this we mean
\left[\Sigma^N X, \Sigma^N Y\right] \simeq \left[\Sigma^ X, \Sigma^ Y\right] \simeq \cdots and \left[\Sigma^\infty X, \Sigma^\infty Y\right] \simeq \left[\Sigma^N X, \Sigma^N Y\right]
for some finite integer N. For a CW complex X there is an inverse construction \Omega^\infty which takes a spectrum E and forms a space
\Omega^\infty E = \underset\Omega^n E_n
called the infinite loop space of the spectrum. For a CW complex X
\Omega^\infty\Sigma^\infty X = \underset \Omega^n\Sigma^nX
and this construction comes with an inclusion X \to \Omega^n\Sigma^n X for every n, hence gives a map
X \to \Omega^\infty\Sigma^\infty X
which is injective. Unfortunately, these two structures, with the addition of the smash product, lead to significant complexity in the theory of spectra because there cannot exist a single category of spectra which satisfies a list of five axioms relating these structures. The above adjunction is valid only in the homotopy categories of spaces and spectra, but not always with a specific category of spectra (not the homotopy category).


An Ω-spectrum is a spectrum such that the adjoint of the structure map (X_n \to \Omega X_) is a weak equivalence. The K-theory spectrum of a ring is an example of an Ω-spectrum.

Ring spectrum

A ring spectrum is a spectrum ''X'' such that the diagrams that describe ring axioms in terms of smash products commute "up to homotopy" (S^0 \to X corresponds to the identity.) For example, the spectrum of topological ''K''-theory is a ring spectrum. A module spectrum may be defined analogously. For many more examples, see the list of cohomology theories.

Functions, maps, and homotopies of spectra

There are three natural categories whose objects are spectra, whose morphisms are the functions, or maps, or homotopy classes defined below. A function between two spectra ''E'' and ''F'' is a sequence of maps from ''E''''n'' to ''F''''n'' that commute with the maps Σ''E''''n'' → ''E''''n''+1 and Σ''F''''n'' → ''F''''n''+1. Given a spectrum E_n, a subspectrum F_n is a sequence of subcomplexes that is also a spectrum. As each ''i''-cell in E_j suspends to an (''i'' + 1)-cell in E_, a cofinal subspectrum is a subspectrum for which each cell of the parent spectrum is eventually contained in the subspectrum after a finite number of suspensions. Spectra can then be turned into a category by defining a map of spectra f: E \to F to be a function from a cofinal subspectrum G of E to F, where two such functions represent the same map if they coincide on some cofinal subspectrum. Intuitively such a map of spectra does not need to be everywhere defined, just ''eventually'' become defined, and two maps that coincide on a cofinal subspectrum are said to be equivalent. This gives the category of spectra (and maps), which is a major tool. There is a natural embedding of the category of pointed CW complexes into this category: it takes Y to the ''suspension spectrum'' in which the ''n''th complex is \Sigma^n Y . The smash product of a spectrum E and a pointed complex X is a spectrum given by (E \wedge X)_n = E_n \wedge X (associativity of the smash product yields immediately that this is indeed a spectrum). A homotopy of maps between spectra corresponds to a map (E \wedge I^+) \to F, where I^+ is the disjoint union [0, 1] \sqcup \ with * taken to be the basepoint. The stable homotopy category, or homotopy category of (CW) spectra is defined to be the category whose objects are spectra and whose morphisms are homotopy classes of maps between spectra. Many other definitions of spectrum, some appearing very different, lead to equivalent stable homotopy categories. Finally, we can define the suspension of a spectrum by (\Sigma E)_n = E_. This translation suspension is invertible, as we can desuspend too, by setting (\Sigma^E)_n = E_.

The triangulated homotopy category of spectra

The stable homotopy category is additive: maps can be added by using a variant of the track addition used to define homotopy groups. Thus homotopy classes from one spectrum to another form an abelian group. Furthermore the stable homotopy category is triangulated category, triangulated (Vogt (1970)), the shift being given by suspension and the distinguished triangles by the Mapping cone (topology), mapping cone sequences of spectra :X\rightarrow Y\rightarrow Y\cup CX \rightarrow (Y\cup CX)\cup CY \cong \Sigma X.

Smash products of spectra

The smash product of spectra extends the smash product of CW complexes. It makes the stable homotopy category into a monoidal category; in other words it behaves like the (derived) tensor product of abelian groups. A major problem with the smash product is that obvious ways of defining it make it associative and commutative only up to homotopy. Some more recent definitions of spectra, such as symmetric spectrum, symmetric spectra, eliminate this problem, and give a symmetric monoidal structure at the level of maps, before passing to homotopy classes. The smash product is compatible with the triangulated category structure. In particular the smash product of a distinguished triangle with a spectrum is a distinguished triangle.

Generalized homology and cohomology of spectra

We can define the stable homotopy group, (stable) homotopy groups of a spectrum to be those given by :\displaystyle \pi_n E = [\Sigma^n \mathbb, E], where \mathbb is the sphere spectrum and [X, Y] is the set of homotopy classes of maps from X to Y. We define the generalized homology theory of a spectrum ''E'' by :E_n X = \pi_n (E \wedge X) = [\Sigma^n \mathbb, E \wedge X] and define its generalized cohomology theory by :\displaystyle E^n X = [\Sigma^ X, E]. Here X can be a spectrum or (by using its suspension spectrum) a space.

Technical complexities with spectra

One of the canonical complexities while working with spectra and defining a category of spectra comes from the fact each of these categories cannot satisfy five seemingly obvious axioms concerning the infinite loop space of a spectrum Q
Q: \text_* \to \text_*
QX = \mathop_\Omega^n\Sigma^n X
a pair of adjoint functors \Sigma^\infty: \text_* \leftrightarrows \text_* : \Omega^\infty, the and the smash product \wedge in both the category of spaces and the category of spectra. If we let \text_* denote the category of based, compactly generated, weak Hausdorff spaces, and \text_* denote a category of spectra, the following five axioms can never be satisfied by the specific model of spectra: # \text_* is a symmetric monoidal category with respect to the smash product \wedge # The functor \Sigma^\infty is left-adjoint to \Omega^\infty # The unit for the smash product \wedge is the sphere spectrum \Sigma^\infty S^0 = \mathbb # Either there is a natural transformation \phi: \left(\Omega^\infty E\right) \wedge \left(\Omega^\infty E'\right) \to \Omega^\infty\left(E \wedge E'\right) or a natural transformation \gamma: \left(\Sigma^\infty E\right) \wedge \left(\Sigma^\infty E'\right) \to \Sigma^\infty\left(E \wedge E'\right) which commutes with the unit object in both categories, and the commutative and associative isomorphisms in both categories. # There is a natural weak equivalence \theta: \Omega^\infty\Sigma^\infty X \to QX for X \in \operatorname(\text_*) which that there is a commuting diagram:
\begin X & \xrightarrow & \Omega^\infty\Sigma^\infty X \\ \mathord \downarrow & & \downarrow \theta \\ X & \xrightarrow & QX \end
where \eta is the unit map in the adjunction. Because of this, the study of spectra is fractured based upon the model being used. For an overview, check out the article cited above.


A version of the concept of a spectrum was introduced in the 1958 doctoral dissertation of Elon Lages Lima. His advisor Edwin Spanier wrote further on the subject in 1959. Spectra were adopted by Michael Atiyah and George W. Whitehead in their work on generalized homology theories in the early 1960s. The 1964 doctoral thesis of Michael Boardman, J. Michael Boardman gave a workable definition of a category of spectra and of maps (not just homotopy classes) between them, as useful in stable homotopy theory as the category of CW complexes is in the unstable case. (This is essentially the category described above, and it is still used for many purposes: for other accounts, see Adams (1974) or Rainer Vogt (1970).) Important further theoretical advances have however been made since 1990, improving vastly the formal properties of spectra. Consequently, much recent literature uses E-infinity ring spectrum, modified definitions of spectrum: see Michael Mandell ''et al.'' (2001) for a unified treatment of these new approaches.

See also

*Ring spectrum *Symmetric spectrum *G-spectrum *Mapping spectrum *Suspension (topology) *Adams spectral sequence



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Modern articles developing the theory


Historically relevant articles

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External links

Spectral Sequences
- Allen Hatcher - contains excellent introduction to spectra and applications for constructing Adams spectral sequence
An untitled book project about symmetric spectra
* {{DEFAULTSORT:Spectrum (Homotopy Theory) Homotopy theory