In Homology and Cohomology we introduced the idea of **chain complexes** to help us obtain information about topological spaces. We recall that a chain complex is made up of abelian groups of spaces and boundary homomorphisms such that for all the composition of successive boundary homomorphisms sends every element in to the zero element in .

Chain complexes can be expressed using the following diagram:

We now abstract this idea, generalizing it so that the groups do not necessarily have to be topological spaces, and show an example of a chain complex that is ubiquitous in mathematics.

First we recall some ideas from Homology and Cohomology. Our “important principle” was summarized in the following statement:

**All boundaries are cycles.**

Boundaries in are elements of the image of the boundary homomorphism . Cycles in are elements of the kernel of the boundary homomorphism . Therefore, we can also state our “important principle” as follows:

for all

This is of course just another restatement of the defining property of all chain complexes that two successive boundary functions when composed send every element of its domain to the zero element of its range.

There is an important kind of chain complex with the following property:

for all

Such a chain complex is called an **exact sequence**. Sometimes we just say that the chain complex is **exact**. We will show some simple examples of exact sequences, but for these examples we will drop the notation of the boundary homomorphism to show that many properties of ordinary functions can be expressed in terms of exact sequences.

Consider, for example, abelian groups , , and . The identity elements of , , and will be denoted by , writing , , and if necessary. We will also write to denote the trivial abelian group consisting only of the single element . Let us now look at the exact sequence

where is the inclusion function sending to . The image of this inclusion function is therefore . By the defining property of exact sequences, this is also the kernel of the function . In other words, sends to . It is a property of group homomorphisms that whenever the kernel consists of only one element, the homomorphism is an **injective**, or **one-to-one**, function. This means that no more than one element of the domain gets sent to the same element in the range. Since this function is also a homomorphism, it is also called a **monomorphism**.

Meanwhile, let us also consider the exact sequence

where is the “constant” function that sends any element in to . The kernel of this constant function is therefore the entirety of . By the defining property of exact sequences, this is also the image of the function . In other words, the image of the function is the entirety of , or we can also say that every element of is assigned by to some element of . Such a function is called **surjective**, or **onto**. Since this function is also a homomorphism, it is also called an **epimorphism**.

The exact sequence

is important in many branches of mathematics, and is called a **short exact sequence**. This means that is a monomorphism, is an epimorphism, and that in . As an example of a short exact sequence of abelian groups, we have

(see also Modular Arithmetic and Quotient Sets). The monomorphism takes the abelian group of even integers and “embeds” them into the abelian group of the integers . The epimorphism then sends the integers in to the element in if they are even, and to the element in if they are odd. We see that every element in that comes from , i.e. the even integers, gets sent to the identity element or zero element of the abelian group .

In the exact sequence

The abelian group is sometimes referred to as the **extension** of the abelian group by the abelian group .

We recall the definition of the homology groups :

.

We can see from this definition that a chain complex is an exact sequence (we can also say that the chain complex is **acyclic**) if all of its homology groups are zero. So in a way, the homology groups “measure” how much a chain complex “deviates” from being an exact sequence.

We also have the idea of a long exact complex, which usually comes from the homology groups of chain complexes which themselves form a short exact sequence. In order to discuss this we first need the notion of a chain map between chain complexes. If we have a chain complex

and another chain complex

a **chain map** is given by homomorphisms

for all

such that the homomorphisms commute with the boundary homomorphisms and , i.e.

for all .

A short exact sequence of chain complexes is then a short exact sequence

for all

where the homomorphisms and satisfy the conditions for them to form a chain map, i.e. they commute with the boundary homomorphisms in the sense shown above.

In the case that we have a short exact sequence of chain complexes, their homology groups will then form a **long exact sequence**:

Long exact sequences are often used for calculating the homology groups of complicated topological spaces related in some way to simpler topological spaces whose homology groups are already known.

References:

Algebraic Topology by Allen Hatcher

A Concise Course in Algebraic Topology by J. P. May

Abstract Algebra by David S. Dummit and Richard M. Foote

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