## You are here

HomeRiemann surface

## Primary tabs

# Riemann surface

# 1 Broad Sense

In its broadest meaning, the term *Riemann surface* means a one-dimensional ^{1}^{1}Note: The term “one-dimensional” here refers to the fact that the location of a point in the domain of a homeomorphism may be specified by a single complex coordinate (namely, the value of the homeomorphism at that point). Of course, a single complex number is equivalent to two real numbers, so a Riemann surface is a two-dimensional real manifold, hence the term surface. This terminology can be somewhat confusing to the beginner — the terms “complex curve” and “real surface” can both be used to refer to the same mathematical object! complex manifold. Spelled out explicitly, this means that a Riemann surface is a Hausdorff topological space together with a set of homeomorphisms between certain open subsets of that space and open subsets of the complex plane which satisfy the following two conditions:

1. 2. If the domains of two homeomorphisms overlap, the composition of one homeomorphism with the inverse of the restriction of the other homeomorphism to the overlap region is a complex analytic function.

The simplest example of a Riemann surface which is not a subset of the complex plane is the Riemann sphere.

The main reason Riemann surfaces are interesting is that one can speak of analytic functions on Riemann surfaces. A complex-valued function on a Riemann surface is said to be *analytic* if the composition of this function with the inverse of any of the homeomorphisms mentioned in the definition is a complex analytic function.

# 2 Narrow Sense

The term “Riemann surface” is often used in a narrower sense. A Riemann surface in the narrower sense is a branched covering of the complex plane. That means that we have a one-dimensional complex manifold together with a projection map from a dense open subset of that manifold to the complex plane. (Note that the image of this projection map need not be the whole complex plane — in fact, in the case of functions with natural boundary, it may not even be a dense subset thereof.)

A particularly important motivation for this definition is the result that, given a (possibly multiply-valued) analytic function defined on an open subset of the complex plane, there exists a (single-valued) analytic function defined on a Riemann surface (in the narrow sense) such that the pullback of the restriction of this function to a suitable open subset of the Riemann surface under the projection map corresponds to the original function defined on a subset of the complex plane. To show this result, one needs to exhibit a method whereby, given a function defined on an open subset of the complex plane, one can construct a suitable Riemann surface. Over the years, mathematicians have devised several means for accomplishing these ends, and the remainder of this entry is devoted to an exposition of some of these methods, starting with Riemann’s concrete geometric approach and ending with more abstract approaches typical of contemporary mathematics.

# 3 Riemann’s Construction

To begin our discussion, we may go back to Riemann’s original motivation for introducing his surfaces. He was trying to make sense of “many-valued functions” such as the square root and the logarithm. One way of making sense of such entities is by making “branch cuts” — i.e. removing certain curves from the complex plane such that one is left with a dense open set on which the function is well-defined (single-valued). For instance, to study the square root or the logarithm, one typically removes the negative real axis.

Of course, if the original function is multiple-valued, there is more than one way of defining it in the dense open set. Each of these possible definitions is called a *branch* of the function. For instance, there is the negative branch and the positive branch of the square root. In the case of the logarithm, the different branches differ by an additive factor of the form $2\pi in$.

Riemann’s clever idea was to combine these different branches by means of a geometric device. He imagined taking as many copies of the open set as there are branches of the function and joining them together along the branch cuts. To understand how this works, imagine cutting out sheets along the branch curves and stacking them on top of the complex plane. On each sheet, we define one branch of the function. We glue the different sheets to each other in such a way that the branch of the function on one sheet joins continuously at the seam with the branch defined on the other sheet. For instance, in the case of the square root, we join each end of the sheet corresponding to the positive branch with the opposite end of the sheet corresponding to the negative branch. In the case of the logarithm, we join one end of the sheet corresponding to the $2\pi n$ branch with an end of the $(2n+1)\pi n$ sheet to obtain a spiral structure which looks like a parking garage.

The advantage of Riemann’s construction is that one has now constructed a geometric space on which the function is well-defined and single valued. The multi-valuedness and the branches are easily understood form this viewpoint —the function appears to have many values at a single point because we did not distinguish between different points on the Riemann surface which project to the same point on the complex plane and instead tried to think (somewhat illogically) of the function as having more than one value at a single point on the complex plane rather than as having different values at several points which correspond to this point.

The modern reader will recognize in Riemann’s cut-and-paste procedure the same idea of combining open sets to create a space which underlies the modern definition of manifold cited at the beginning of this article. In the nineteeenth century, even though such topological concepts as manifolds were known, they were not rigorously defined. Indeed, even the definition of open and closed sets would not be introduced until the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, some 50 years after Riemann. In the meanwhile, Riemann, Betti, Maxwell, Tait, Moebius and others had to rely on intuitive topological ideas.

This old description of Riemann surfaces is worth knowing about because it explains terminology such as “sheet of the Riemann surface” which is still in use today. Moreover, the lead author believes that there is no better way of coming to terms with Riemann surfaces than by taking scissors, paper, and tape and constructing models of Riemann surfaces. (he has done this himself several times) It is easiest to start with the Riemann surfaces for the square root and the logarithm. After one gains some experience cutting and gluing together Riemann surfaces, one can try some more complicated examples as the Riemann surface of the function $f(z)=\sqrt{z^{4}-1}$. When one has constructed this surface and convinced oneself that it has the topology of a torus, one is well on one’s way to developing an intuitive understanding of Riemann surfaces.

# 4 Weyl’s Approach

A half-century after Riemann, H. Weyl provided a rigorous construction of Riemann surfaces using techniques of topology. Aside from its historical interest, this construction, which is based upon analytic continuation by power series, is rather interesting in its own right, so we shall discuss it here.

The basic strategy of this construction is to construct the surface as a subspace of a larger topological space $\Omega$. The elements of the underlying set of $\Omega$ are pairs consisting of a point of the complex plane and a convergent power series about that point. The topology may be described via a subbasis as follows. Given an element $(z,\{a_{k}\}_{{k=0}}^{\infty})\in\Omega$ and real number $\epsilon$ between zero and the radius of convergence of $\{a_{k}\}_{{k=0}}^{\infty}$, we define a subbaisis element $B\subset\Omega$ as follows: A pair $(w,\{b_{k}\}_{{k=0}}^{\infty})$ belongs to $B$ if $|w-z|<\epsilon$ and $\sum_{{k=0}}^{\infty}a_{k}(\zeta-z)^{k}=\sum_{{k=0}}^{\infty}b_{k}(\zeta-w)^{k}$ for all $\zeta\in\mathbb{C}$ such that both series converge. (Because $|w-z|$ is less than the radius of convergence of the former series, there exists an infinity of such points $\zeta$ and, in fact, the $b_{k}$’s are uniquely determined in terms of the $\alpha_{k}$’s.)

A Riemann surface is then defined to be a closed, connected subspace of $\Omega$. The projection map from the Riemann surface to the complex plane simply is the map which sends each pair to its first component. Using this map, one can show that what has been constructed is in fact a complex manifold. This is essentially a routine verification; for every subbasis element this map is an isomorphism to an open subset of the complex plane, so the totality of subbasis elements form an atlas.

An fascinating feature of this construction is that it provides all possible Riemann surfaces at once. The topological space $\Omega$ has many connected components, each of which is a different Riemann surface.

# 5 Space of Paths

Another approach is based upon analytic continuation along paths and resembles the construction of the universal cover of a manifold as a set of paths. In this approach, we start with an analytic function defined in the neighborhood of some point. We consider the totality of all paths along which this function may be analytically continued. Next, we identify paths which have the same endpoints and can be deformed homotopically into each other by a one-parameter family of paths along which the function can be analytically continued. (By the monodromy theorem, analytically continuing the function along paths which are to be identified will lead to the same result.) It turns out that this set of identified paths has the structure of a complex manifold. Since the proof of this latter assertion is somewhat technical and would interrupt the flow of exposition, it has been relegated to an attachment.

As it turns out, this construction does not produce all Riemann surfaces — it only produces the simply connected ones. To produce the remaining surfaces, one needs to perform yet another identification. One must identify all closed loops such that analytic continuation along these loops leads to the same function and identify paths which differ by such a loop. A beautiful example of this identification is provided by an example considered earlier, the Riemann surface of $f(z)=\sqrt{z^{4}-1}$. If one does not make identifications, one obtains a plane on which $f$ lifts to a doubly periodic elliptic function. Identifying by the two periods forms a torus which, as we saw earlier, is the Riemann surface of $f$.

# 6 Sheaves

Just as the two foregoing approaches may be seen as
being based upon the analytic continuation by power series and along
paths, respectively, so the approach to be described now may be seen as
based upon analytic continuation along chains of open sets. Define a
*function element* to be a pair $(D,f)$ where $D$ is an open subset
of the complex plane and $f\colon D\to\mathbb{C}$ is analytic. The
set of all function elements form a sheaf over the complex plane, which
we shall denote as ${\cal S}$.

# 7 Comparison of Approaches

# 8 Branch Points

Bibliography

H. Cohn, *Conformal Mapping on Riemann Surfaces*, Dover Publishing, 1967

## Mathematics Subject Classification

30F99*no label found*

- Forums
- Planetary Bugs
- HS/Secondary
- University/Tertiary
- Graduate/Advanced
- Industry/Practice
- Research Topics
- LaTeX help
- Math Comptetitions
- Math History
- Math Humor
- PlanetMath Comments
- PlanetMath System Updates and News
- PlanetMath help
- PlanetMath.ORG
- Strategic Communications Development
- The Math Pub
- Testing messages (ignore)

- Other useful stuff

## Recent Activity

new question: numerical method (implicit) for nonlinear pde by roozbe

new question: Harshad Number by pspss

Sep 14

new problem: Geometry by parag

Aug 24

new question: Scheduling Algorithm by ncovella

new question: Scheduling Algorithm by ncovella

## Attached Articles

## Corrections

minor issues by mathcam ✓

homomorphism, wrong! by juanman ✓

typo by yark ✓

not complete by CWoo ✘

## Comments

## Any illustrators out there?

I just finished typing in an entry on Riemann surfaces. It would really be nice to embellish it with illustrations of the Riemann surfaces of the square root function and the logarithm discussed in the entry.

I was wondering if someone might be interested in supplying some illustrations in a suitable format for inclusion in Planet Math. I know next to nothing about graphics programs and, most likely don't have the software needed to make the drawings. (and, if it's commercial, I wouldn't have the money to buy it --- my budget is about as low and tight as that of Planet Math :( )

Also, I was thinking of including some pictures of my paper models of Riemann surface. Can this be done? What file format would they have to be in and how and where to include them in Plante Math. (Since I don't have a digital camera at the moment and it might be a while before I get one due to the problems mentione in the comment to last paragraph. Nevertheless, it would be nice to know what to do with the pictures once I do get a camera.)

## Re: Any illustrators out there?

you need to load the graphicx package in order to use pictures (I think it's loaded by default).

If you want to use pictures on your entries, you need to upload them in EPS format using the "filebox" part of the enry editing dialog.

I can help you creating such graphics if you show me how these look

I'm training my pstricks skills right now so if possible, I would give you code to include them directly on code, but if it's too complicated I have many graphic programs that can output EPS and I would send the pictures back to you.

You just show me how they want to look and I'll create the drawings

(for these and any other entries you might want, I'd love to see PM to be much more graphical)

f

G -----> H G

p \ /_ ----- ~ f(G)

\ / f ker f

G/ker f

## homomorphism vs homeomorphism

I think it should be change the "homomorphism" word to "homeomorphism", because homomorphism is applied when there is an algebraic operation involved in the domain of definition.

cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riemann_surface

thanks

## Re: homomorphism vs homeomorphism

I love Wikipedia, but you should always doublecheck with some other source before quoting it. In this case of the confusingly similar terms, I checked with Mathworld.

## Re: homomorphism vs homeomorphism

wikipedia (et al.) only corroborates what it is known from: Wells, Gunning, Griffiths and others... greets

## Re: homomorphism vs homeomorphism

I don't mean to come across as an anti-Wiki snob ;) but someone must've deleted the Wells, Gunning, Griffiths and others references from the WP article on homeomorphism. The WP article on homomorphism (or at least the version I'm looking at right now) has only one citation, for Burris & Sankappanavar.

## Riemann surface not yet complete

I acknowledge this entry is not complete yet. A few other people besides myself have access to make changes. I call dibs on making graphics of a couple of the more famous Riemann surfaces with Mathematica.

## Re: Riemann surface not yet complete

Calling dibs is silly and immature. If someone has graphics

to contribute, that person should contribute graphics rather

than getting hung up bickering over priority. As time allows,

I wiill work on the part about the sheaf-theoretic approach to

Riemann surface theory.

## Re: Riemann surface not yet complete

I could've been criticized for not volunteering to do anything and leaving everything to others to do. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

## Re: Riemann surface not yet complete

I see that I misunderstood what you were saying. I would be

quite glad to have you add figures. Also, maybe we could

make some attachments which give examples of Riemann surfaces,

such as the "famous Reimann surfaces' you mentioned earlier.