Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2018

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Charles D. Frohman

First Committee Member

Maggy Tomova

Second Committee Member

Isabel K. Darcy

Third Committee Member

Ben Cooper

Fourth Committee Member

Keiko Kawamuro


Knots and links $L\subset S^3$ carry a wealth of data. Spanning surfaces $F$ (1- or 2-sided), $\partial F=L$, especially {\bf checkerboard} surfaces from link diagrams $D\subset S^2$, help to mine this data. This text explores the structure of these surfaces, with a focus on a gluing operation called {\bf plumbing}, or {\it Murasugi sum}.

First, naive classification questions provide natural and accessible motivation for the geometric and algebraic notions of essentiality (incompressibility with $\partial$-incompressibility and $\pi_1$-injectivity, respectively). This opening narrative also scaffolds a system of hyperlinks to the usual background information, which lies out of the way in appendices and glossaries.

We then extend both notions of essentiality to define geometric and algebraic {\it degrees} of essentiality, $\underset{\hookrightarrow}{\text{ess}}(F)$ and $\text{ess}(F)$. For the latter, cutting $S^3$ along $F$ and letting $\mathcal{X}$ denote the set of compressing disks for $\partial (S^3\backslash\backslash F)$ in $S^3\backslash\backslash F$, $\text{ess}(F):=\min_{X\in\mathcal{X}}|\partial X\cap L|$. Extending results of Gabai and Ozawa, we prove that plumbing respects degrees of algebraic essentiality, $\text{ess}(F_1*F_2)\geq\min_{i=1,2}\text{ess}(F_i)$, provided $F_1,F_2$ are essential. We also show by example that plumbing does not respect the condition of geometric essentiality.

We ask which surfaces de-plumb uniquely. We show that, in general, essentiality is necessary but insufficient, and we give various sufficient conditions.

We consider Ozawa's notion of representativity $r(F,L)$, which is defined similarly to $\text{ess}(F)$, except that $F$ is a closed surface in $S^3$ that contains $L$, rather than a surface whose boundary equals $L$. We use Menasco's crossing bubbles to describe a sort of thin position for such a closed surface, relative to a given link diagram, and we prove in the case of alternating links that $r(F,L)\leq2$. (The contents of Chapter 4, under the title Alternating links have representativity 2, are first published in Algebraic \& Geometric Topology in 2018, published by Mathematical Sciences Publishers.) We then adapt these arguments to the context of spanning surfaces, obtaining a simpler proof of a useful crossing band lemma, as well as a foundation for future attempts to better classify the spanning surfaces for a given alternating link.

We adapt the operation of plumbing to the context of Khovanov homology. We prove that every homogeneously adequate Kauffman state has enhancements $X^\pm$ in distinct $j$-gradings whose traces (which we define) represent nonzero Khovanov homology classes over $\mathbb{Z}/2\mathbb{Z}$, and that this is also true over $\mathbb{Z}$ when all $A$-blocks' state surfaces are two-sided. A direct proof constructs $X^\pm$ explicitly. An alternate proof, reflecting the theorem's geometric motivation, applies our adapted plumbing operation. Finally, we describe an interpretation of Khovanov homology in terms of decorated cell decompositions of abstract, nonorientable surfaces, featuring properly embedded (1+1)-dimensional nonorientable cobordisms in (2+1)-dimensional nonorientable cobordisms. This formulation contains a planarity condition; removing this condition leads to Khovanov homology for virtual link diagrams.


crosscap, essential, Khovanov homology, knot, plumbing, spanning surface


xvii, 339 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 323-330).


This thesis has been optimized for improved web viewing. If you require the original version, contact the University Archives at the University of Iowa:


Copyright © 2018 Thomas Kindred

Included in

Mathematics Commons