The Unapologetic Mathematician

Mathematics for the interested outsider

The Algebra of Differential Forms

We’ve defined the exterior bundle \Lambda^*_k(M) over a manifold M. Given any open U\subseteq M we’ve also defined a k-form over U to be a section of this bundle: a function \alpha:U\to\Lambda^*_k(U) such that \pi\circ\alpha=I_U:U\to U. We write \Omega^k(U)=\Omega_M^k(U) for the collection of all such k-forms over U. It’s straightforward to see that this defines a sheaf on M.

This isn’t just a sheaf of sets; it’s a sheaf of modules over the structure sheaf \mathcal{O}_M of smooth functions on M. We define the necessary operations pointwise:


where the right hand sides are defined by the vector space structures on the respective \mathcal{T}_pM.

We can go even further and define the sheaf of differential forms


This sheaf \Omega_M is not just a sheaf of modules over \mathcal{O}_M, it’s a sheaf of algebras. For an \alpha\in\Omega^k(U) and a \beta\in\Omega^l(U), we define their exterior product pointwise:


In fact, this is a graded algebra, and the multiplication has degree zero:


Even better, this is a unital algebra. We see this by considering the zero grade, since the unit must live in the zero grade. Indeed, \Lambda_0^*(U)\cong\mathbb{R}, so sections of \Lambda_0^*(U) are simply functions on U. That is, \Omega^0(U)\cong\mathcal{O}(U). Given a function f\in\mathcal{O}(U) we will just write f\alpha instead of f\wedge\alpha.

July 12, 2011 - Posted by | Differential Topology, Topology


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  2. […] looks sort of familiar as a derivative, but we have another sort of derivative on the algebra of differential forms: the “exterior derivative”. But this one doesn’t really look like a derivative at […]

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  5. […] smooth maps, and homotopies form a 2-category, but it’s not the only 2-category around. The algebra of differential forms — together with the exterior derivative — gives us a chain complex. Since pullbacks of […]

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