nLab differential characteristic class





Special and general types

Special notions


Extra structure



Differential cohomology

\infty-Chern-Weil theory



A differential characteristic class is a refinement of a characteristic class from ordinary cohomology to differential cohomology.

For characteristic classes of classifying spaces of Lie groups, the refinement to differential characteristic classes is the topic of Chern-Weil theory. In that context one traditionally speaks of secondary characteristic classes.


There is an unrefined and a refined version of differential characteristic classes. The unrefined version takes values in de Rham cohomology. The refined version lifts this to ordinary differential cohomology.


The following definition is in terms of the axiomatics of cohesive (∞,1)-toposes.

Let H\mathbf{H} be a cohesive (∞,1)-topos, AHA \in \mathbf{H} any object and KHK \in \mathbf{H} an abelian ∞-group object. Write B nK\mathbf{B}^n K for the nn-fold delooping of KK.

An ordinary characteristic class on AA of with coefficients in KK of degree nn is a morphism

c:AB nA \mathbf{c} : A \to \mathbf{B}^n A

or rather the class

[c]H n(A,K):=π 0H(A,B nK) [\mathbf{c}] \in H^n(A,K) := \pi_0 \mathbf{H}(A,\mathbf{B}^n K)

that it represents. By general properties of cohesive (∞,1)-toposes there is a canonical morphism curv:B nK dRB n+1Kcurv : \mathbf{B}^n K \to \mathbf{\flat}_{dR} \mathbf{B}^{n+1}K to the de Rham coefficient object of B nK\mathbf{B}^n K. This is the universal curvature characteristic class on B nK\mathbf{B}^n K.


The (unrefined) differential characteristic class or curvature characteristic class lifting the characteristic class c:AB nK\mathbf{c} : A \to \mathbf{B}^n K is the composite

c dR:AcB nKcurv dRB n+1K \mathbf{c}_{dR} : A \stackrel{\mathbf{c}}{\to} \mathbf{B}^n K \stackrel{curv}{\to} \mathbf{\flat}_{dR}\mathbf{B}^{n+1} K

or rather its class

[c dR]H dR n+1(A):=π 0H(A, dRB n+1K) [\mathbf{c}_{dR}] \in H^{n+1}_{dR}(A) := \pi_0 \mathbf{H}(A, \mathbf{\flat}_{dR} \mathbf{B}^{n+1} K)

that it represents.

Postcomposition with differential characteristic classes induces the (unrefined) abstract Chern-Weil homomorphism

c dR:H(,A)H dR n+1(). \mathbf{c}_{dR} : H(-,A) \to H_{dR}^{n+1}(-) \,.

For GHG \in \mathbf{H} an ∞-group and A=BGA = \mathbf{B}G its delooping, this morphism

c dR:H 1(,G)H dR n+1() \mathbf{c}_{dR} : H^1(-,G) \to H_{dR}^{n+1}(-)

sends GG-principal ∞-bundles PXP \to X to the curvature characteristic class c dR(P)\mathbf{c}_{dR}(P) that represents the characteristic class c(P)\mathbf{c}(P) in intrinsic de Rham cohomology.




Differential Pontryagin classes




See the references at Chern-Weil theory and Chern-Weil theory in Smooth∞Grpd.

Lecture notes on secondary cohomology classes? in differential cohomology for flat connections is presented in

  • Ulrich Bunke, Differential cohomology, arXiv:1208.3961

Last revised on September 27, 2016 at 00:52:15. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.