Euler class

In mathematics, specifically in algebraic topology, the Euler class is a characteristic class of oriented, real vector bundles. Like other characteristic classes, it measures how "twisted" the vector bundle is. In the case of the tangent bundle of a smooth manifold, it generalizes the classical notion of Euler characteristic. It is named after Leonhard Euler because of this.

Throughout this article EX is an oriented, real vector bundle of rank r.

Formal definition

The Euler class e(E) is an element of the integral cohomology group

constructed as follows. An orientation of E amounts to a continuous choice of generator of the cohomology

of each fiber F relative to the complement F\F0 of its zero element F0. From Thom isomorphism, this induces an orientation class

in the cohomology of E relative to the complement E\E0 of the zero section E0. The inclusions

where X includes into E as the zero section, induce maps

The Euler class e(E) is the image of u under the composition of these maps.


The Euler class satisfies these properties, which are axioms of a characteristic class:

Note that "Normalization" is a distinguishing feature of the Euler class, so that it detects the existence of a non-vanishing section

Also unlike other characteristic classes, it is concentrated in a single dimension, which depends on the rank of the bundle: e(E) ∈ Hr — there are no e0, e1, .... In particular, c0(E) = p0(E) = 1 ∈ H0(X; Z) and w0(E) = 1 ∈ H0(X; Z/2Z), but there is no e0. This reflects the fact that the Euler class is unstable, as discussed below.

Vanishing of section

Under mild conditions (such as X a smooth, closed, oriented manifold), the Euler class corresponds to the vanishing of a section of E in the following way. Let σ : XE be a generic smooth section and ZX its zero locus. Then Z represents a homology class [Z] of codimension r in X, and e(E) is the Poincaré dual of [Z].


For example, if Y is a compact submanifold, then the Euler class of the normal bundle of Y in X is naturally identified with the self-intersection of Y in X.

Relations to other invariants

In the special case when the bundle E in question is the tangent bundle of a compact, oriented, r-dimensional manifold, the Euler class is an element of the top cohomology of the manifold, which is naturally identified with the integers by evaluating cohomology classes on the fundamental homology class. Under this identification, the Euler class of the tangent bundle equals the Euler characteristic of the manifold. In the language of characteristic numbers, the Euler characteristic is the characteristic number corresponding to the Euler class.

Thus the Euler class is a generalization of the Euler characteristic to vector bundles other than tangent bundles. In turn, the Euler class is the archetype for other characteristic classes of vector bundles, in that each "top" characteristic class equals the Euler class, as follows.

Modding out by 2 induces a map

The image of the Euler class under this map is the top Stiefel-Whitney class wr(E). One can view this Stiefel-Whitney class as "the Euler class, ignoring orientation".

Any complex vector bundle V of complex rank d can be regarded as an oriented, real vector bundle E of real rank 2d. The top Chern class cd(V) of the complex bundle equals the Euler class e(E) of the real bundle.

The Whitney sum EE is isomorphic to the complexification EC, which is a complex bundle of rank r. Comparing Euler classes, we see that

Squares to top Pontryagin class

If the rank r is even, then this cohomology class equals the top Pontryagin class pr/2(E).


Unlike the other characteristic classes, the Euler class is unstable, in the sense of stable homotopy theory. Concretely, this means that if 1 is a trivial bundle, then e(V ⊕ 1) ≠ e(V); stable would mean that these are equal. In fact, adding a trivial bundle gives an obvious section, namely a constant on the trivial component, and 0 on the other, thus e(V ⊕ 1) = 0.

More abstractly, the cohomology class in the classifying space BSO(k) that represents the Euler class of a k-dimensional bundle is an unstable class: it is not the pull-back of a class in BSO(k+1) under the inclusion BSO(k) → BSO(k+1). Intuitively, it is not "consistently defined independently of dimension".

This can be seen intuitively in that the Euler class is a class whose degree depends on the dimension of the bundle (or manifold, if the tangent bundle): it is always of top dimension, while the other classes have a fixed dimension (the first Stiefel-Whitney class is in H1, etc.).

The fact that the Euler class is unstable should not be seen as a "defect": rather, from the point of view of stable homotopy, it means that the Euler class "detects unstable phenomena". For instance, the tangent bundle of spheres is stably trivial but not trivial (the usual inclusion of the sphere SnRn+1 has trivial normal bundle, thus the tangent bundle of the sphere plus a trivial line bundle is the tangent bundle of Euclidean space, restricted to Sn, which is trivial), thus other characteristic classes all vanish for the sphere, but the Euler class does not vanish for even spheres, providing a non-trivial invariant.



The Euler characteristic of the n-sphere Sn is:

Thus, there is no non-vanishing section of the tangent bundle of even spheres, so the tangent bundle is not trivial—i.e., S2n is not a parallelizable manifold, and in particular does not admit a Lie group structure.

For odd spheres, S2n−1R2n, a nowhere vanishing section is given by

which shows that the Euler class vanishes; this is just n copies of the usual section over the circle.

As the Euler class for an even sphere corresponds to 2[S2n] ∈ H2n(S2n, Z), we can use the fact that the Euler class of a Whitney sum of two bundles is just the cup product of the Euler class of the two bundles to see that there are no non-trivial subbundles of the tangent bundle of an even sphere.

Since the tangent bundle of the sphere is stably trivial but not trivial, all other characteristic classes vanish on it, and the Euler class is the only ordinary cohomology class that detects non-triviality of the tangent bundle of spheres: to prove further results, one must use secondary cohomology operations or K-theory.


The cylinder is a line bundle over the circle, by the natural projection R × S1S1. It is a trivial line bundle, so it possesses a nowhere-zero section, and so its Euler class is 0. It is also isomorphic to the tangent bundle of the circle; the fact that its Euler class is 0 corresponds to the fact that the Euler characteristic of the circle is 0.

See also

Other classes


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