Configuration spaces of points in a manifold are well studied. Giving the points thickness has obvious physical meaning: the configuration space of non-overlapping particles is equivalent to the phase space, or energy landscape, of a hard spheres gas. But despite their intrinsic appeal, relatively little is known so far about the topology of such spaces. I will overview some recent work in this area, including a theorem with Yuliy Baryshnikov and Peter Bubenik that related the topology of these spaces to mechanically balanced, or jammed, configurations. I will also discuss work in progress with Robert MacPherson on hard disks in an infinite strip, where we understand the asymptotics of the Betti numbers as the number of disks tends to infinity. In the end, we see a kind of topological analogue of a liquid-gas phase transition.
- Topology Seminar