nLab cubical structure on a line bundle





Special and general types

Special notions


Extra structure







A cubical structure on a complex line bundle over an abelian group is a certain trivialization of a certain induced line bundle on the 3-fold Cartesian product (“cube”) of the group which is constructed in a kind of cubical generalization of the polarization identity formula for quadratic forms.

Over formal groups associated with complex oriented cohomology theories cubical structures encode orientation in generalized cohomology.



Given a circle group-principal bundle/complex line bundle \mathcal{L} on an abelian group AA, write Θ()\Theta(\mathcal{L}) for the line bundle on G 3G^3 which is given by the formula

Θ() x,y,z= x+y+z x+y 1 x+z 1 y+z 1 x y z 0 1. \Theta(\mathcal{L})_{x,y,z} = \mathcal{L}_{x+y+z} \otimes \mathcal{L}_{x+y}^{-1} \otimes \mathcal{L}_{x+z}^{-1} \otimes \mathcal{L}_{y+z}^{-1} \otimes \mathcal{L}_x \otimes \mathcal{L}_y \otimes \mathcal{L}_z \otimes \mathcal{L}_0^{-1} \,.

A cubical structure on \mathcal{L} is a trivializing section ss of Θ()\Theta(\mathcal{L}) such that

  1. s(0,0,0)=1s(0,0,0) = 1

  2. s(x σ(1),x σ(2),x σ(3))=s(x 1,x 2,x 3)s(x_{\sigma(1)}, x_{\sigma(2)}, x_{\sigma(3)}) = s(x_1, x_2, x_3)

  3. s(w+x,y,z)s(w,x,z)=s(w,x+y,z)s(x,y,z)s(w+x,y,z) s(w,x,z) = s(w,x + y, z) s(x,y,z)

for all elements of AA as indicated, and for all permutations σ\sigma of three elements. Here the equalities are equalities of sections after applying the canonical isomorphisms of complex lines on both sides.

(Breen 83, Hopkins 94, section 4, Ando-Hopkins-Strickland 01, def. 2.40)


The canonical isomorphsms hidden in def. are:

  1. 0 3( 0 1) 31\mathcal{L}_0^{\otimes 3} \otimes (\mathcal{L}_0^{-1})^{\otimes 3} \to 1 the canonical map exhibiting 0 1\mathcal{L}_0^{-1} as the inverse (dual object) of 0\mathcal{L}_0:

  2. etc.

There is the following further refinement.


In the situation of def. , if the line bundle \mathcal{L} is equipped with a natural “symmetry”

t: x x t \colon \mathcal{L}_x \stackrel{\simeq}{\longrightarrow} \mathcal{L}_{-x}

then a Σ\Sigma-structure on \mathcal{L} is a cubical structure, def. , such that in addition

s(x,y,xy)=1. s(x,y , -x-y) = 1 \,.


Relation to orientations in complex-oriented cohomology theory

For EE a multiplicative weakly periodic complex orientable cohomology theory, we have that SpecE 0(BU6)Spec E^0(B U\langle 6\rangle) is naturally equivalent to the space of cubical structures on the trivial line bundle over the formal group of EE.

In particular, homotopy classes of morphisms of E-infinity ring spectra MU6EMU\langle 6\rangle \to E from the Thom spectrum to EE, and hence universal MU6MU\langle 6\rangle-orientations (see there) of EE are in natural bijection with these cubical structures.

(Hopkins 94, theorem 6.1, 6.2, Ando-Hopkins-Strickland 01, corollary 2.50)

This way for instance the string orientation of tmf has been constructed. See there for more on this.

On the 11-dimensional Chern-Simons term

The 11-dimensional Chern-Simons action functional in 11-dimensional supergravity gives a line bundle LL on the space of supergravity C-fields whose Θ 3(L)\Theta^3(L) is the transgression of the cup product in ordinary differential cohomology of three factors. It seems that each trivialization of the class of the supergravity C-field induces a “cubical” trivialization of Θ 3(L)\Theta^3(L) as above, and hence a cubical structure on LL. See at cubical structure in M-theory for more on this.


An early reference discussing the relation with theta functions is

  • Lawrence Breen, Fonctions thêta et théorème du cube, Springer Lecture Notes in Mathematics 980 (1983). (MR0823233).

In relation to orientation in generalized cohomology cubical structures have been prominently discussed in

  • Michael Hopkins, Topological modular forms, the Witten genus, and the theorem of the cube, Proceedings of the International Congress of Mathematicians, Vol. 1, 2 (Zürich, 1994) (Basel), Birkhäuser, 1995, 554–565. MR 97i:11043 (pdf)

  • Matthew Ando, Michael Hopkins, Neil Strickland, Elliptic spectra, the Witten genus and the theorem of the cube, Invent. Math. 146 (2001) 595–687 MR1869850 (pdf)

Last revised on November 11, 2020 at 08:30:13. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.