We construct a cellular decomposition of the

Axelrod-Singer-Fulton-MacPherson compactification of the configuration

spaces in the plane, that is compatible with the operad composition.

Cells are indexed by trees with bi-coloured edges, and vertices are labelled by

cells of the cacti operad. This answers positively a conjecture stated in

2000 by Kontsevich and Soibelman.

# Past Topology Seminar

The homological monodromy of the universal family of cubic threefolds defines a representation of a certain Artin-type group into the symplectic group Sp(10;\Z). We use Thurston’s classification of surface automorphisms to prove this does not factor through the genus five mapping class group. This gives a geometric group theory perspective on the well-known irrationality of cubic threefolds, as established by Clemens and Griffiths.

The smooth mapping class group of the 4-sphere is pi_0 of the space of orientation preserving self-diffeomorphisms of S^4. At the moment we have no idea whether this group is trivial or not. Watanabe has shown that higher homotopy groups can be nontrivial. Inspired by Watanabe's constructions, we'll look for interesting self-diffeomorphisms of S^4. Most of the talk will be an outline for a program to find a nice geometric generating set for this mapping class group; a few small steps in the program are actually theorems. The point of finding generators is that if they are explicit enough then you have a hope of either showing that they are all trivial or finding an invariant that is well adapted to obstructing triviality of these generators.

We will introduce the Witt vectors of a ring with coefficients in a bimodule and use them to calculate the components of the Hill-Hopkins-Ravenel norm for cyclic p-groups. This algebraic construction generalizes Hesselholt's Witt vectors for non-commutative rings and Kaledin's polynomial Witt vectors over perfect fields. We will discuss applications to the characteristic polynomial over non-commutative rings and to the Dieudonné determinant. This is all joint work with Krause, Nikolaus and Patchkoria.

I will report on recent joint work with Karen Vogtmann on the Euler characteristic of $Out(F_n)$ and the moduli space of graphs. A similar study has been performed in the seminal 1986 work of Harer and Zagier on the Euler characteristic of the mapping class group and the moduli space of curves. I will review a topological field theory proof, due to Kontsevich, of Harer and Zagier´s result and illustrate how an analogous `renormalized` topological field theory argument can be applied to $Out(F_n)$.

We present a programme towards a combinatorial language for higher (stratified) Morse-Cerf theory. Our starting point will be the interpretation of a Morse function as a constructible bundle (of manifolds) over R^1. Generalising this, we describe a surprising combinatorial classification of constructible bundles on flag foliated R^n (the latter structure of a "flag foliation” is needed for us to capture the notions of "singularities of higher Morse-Cerf functions" independently of differentiable structure). We remark that flag foliations can also be seen to provide a notion of directed topology and in this sense higher Morse-Cerf singularities are closely related to coherences in higher category theory. The main result we will present is the algorithmic decidability of existence of mutual refinements of constructible bundles. Using this result, we discuss how "combinatorial stratified higher Morse-Cerf theory" opens up novel paths to the computational treatment of interesting questions in manifold topology.

The tunnel number of a graph embedded in a 3-dimensional manifold is the fewest number of arcs needed so that the union of the graph with the arcs has handlebody exterior. The behavior of tunnel number with respect to connected sum of knots can vary dramatically, depending on the knots involved. However, a classical theorem of Scharlemann and Schultens says that the tunnel number of a composite knot is at least the number of factors. For theta graphs, trivalent vertex sum is the operation which most closely resembles the connected sum of knots. The analogous theorem of Scharlemann and Schultens no longer holds, however. I will provide a sharp lower bound for the tunnel number of composite theta graphs, using recent work on a new knot invariant which is additive under connected sum and trivalent vertex sum. This is joint work with Maggy Tomova.

I will give a brief survey of some problems in curvature free geometry and sketch

a new proof of the following:

Theorem (Guth). There is some $\delta (n)>0$ such that if $(M^n,g)$ is a closed aspherical Riemannian manifold and $V(R)$ is the volume of the largest ball of radius $R$ in the universal cover of $M$, then $V(R)\geq \delta(n)R^n$ for all $R$.

I will also discuss some recent related questions and results.

The relationship between the large-scale geometry of a group and its algebraic structure can be studied via three notions: a group's quasi-isometry class, a group's abstract commensurability class, and geometric actions on proper geodesic metric spaces. A common model geometry for groups G and G' is a proper geodesic metric space on which G and G' act geometrically. A group G is action rigid if every group G' that has a common model geometry with G is abstractly commensurable to G. For example, a closed hyperbolic n-manifold group is not action rigid for all n at least three. In contrast, we show that free products of closed hyperbolic manifold groups are action rigid. Consequently, we obtain the first examples of Gromov hyperbolic groups that are quasi-isometric but do not virtually have a common model geometry. This is joint work with Daniel Woodhouse.

For a semisimple modular tensor category the Reshetikhin-Turaev construction yields an extended three-dimensional topological field theory and hence by restriction a modular functor. By work of Lyubachenko-Majid the construction of a modular functor from a modular tensor category remains possible in the non-semisimple case. We explain that the latter construction is the shadow of a derived modular functor featuring homotopy coherent mapping class group actions on chain complex valued conformal blocks and a version of factorization and self-sewing via homotopy coends. On the torus we find a derived version of the Verlinde algebra, an algebra over the little disk operad (or more generally a little bundles algebra in the case of equivariant field theories). The concepts will be illustrated for modules over the Drinfeld double of a finite group in finite characteristic. This is joint work with Christoph Schweigert (Hamburg).