In

mathematicsMathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

and

physicsPhysics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

, a

**topological soliton** or a

**topological defect** is a solution of a system of

partial differential equationIn mathematics, partial differential equations are a type of differential equation, i.e., a relation involving an unknown function of several independent variables and their partial derivatives with respect to those variables...

s or of a

quantum field theoryQuantum field theory provides a theoretical framework for constructing quantum mechanical models of systems classically parametrized by an infinite number of dynamical degrees of freedom, that is, fields and many-body systems. It is the natural and quantitative language of particle physics and...

homotopically distinct from the

vacuum solutionA vacuum solution is a solution of a field equation in which the sources of the field are taken to be identically zero. That is, such field equations are written without matter interaction .-Examples:...

; it can be proven to exist because the boundary conditions entail the existence of

homotopically distinct solutionsIn topology, two continuous functions from one topological space to another are called homotopic if one can be "continuously deformed" into the other, such a deformation being called a homotopy between the two functions...

. Typically, this occurs because the boundary on which the boundary conditions are specified has a non-trivial

homotopy groupIn mathematics, homotopy groups are used in algebraic topology to classify topological spaces. The first and simplest homotopy group is the fundamental group, which records information about loops in a space...

which is preserved in

differential equationA differential equation is a mathematical equation for an unknown function of one or several variables that relates the values of the function itself and its derivatives of various orders...

s; the solutions to the differential equations are then topologically distinct, and are classified by their homotopy class. Topological defects are not only stable against small perturbations, but cannot decay or be undone or be de-tangled, precisely because there is no continuous transformation that will map them (homotopically) to a uniform or "trivial" solution.

Examples include the

solitonIn mathematics and physics, a soliton is a self-reinforcing solitary wave that maintains its shape while it travels at constant speed. Solitons are caused by a cancellation of nonlinear and dispersive effects in the medium...

or

solitary waveIn mathematics and physics, a solitary wave can refer to* The solitary wave or wave of translation, as observed by John Scott Russell in the Union Canal, near Edinburgh in 1834...

which occurs in many exactly solvable models, the screw dislocations in crystalline materials, the

skyrmionIn theoretical physics, a skyrmion is a mathematical model used to model baryons . It was conceived by Tony Skyrme.-Overview:...

and the Wess–Zumino–Witten model in quantum field theory.

Topological defects are believed to drive

phase transitionA phase transition is the transformation of a thermodynamic system from one phase or state of matter to another.A phase of a thermodynamic system and the states of matter have uniform physical properties....

s in

condensed matterCondensed matter may refer to several things*Condensed matter physics, the study of the physical properties of condensed phases of matter*European Physical Journal B: Condensed Matter and Complex Systems, a scientific journal published by EDP sciences...

physics. Notable examples of topological defects are observed in

Lambda transitionThe λ universality class is probably the most important group in condensed matter physics. It regroups several systems possessing strong analogies, namely, superfluids, superconductors and smectics...

universality class systems including: screw/edge-dislocations in liquid crystals, magnetic flux tubes in superconductors, vortices in superfluids.

## Cosmology

Certain grand unified theories predict topological defects to have formed in the early

universeThe Universe is commonly defined as the totality of everything that exists, including all matter and energy, the planets, stars, galaxies, and the contents of intergalactic space. Definitions and usage vary and similar terms include the cosmos, the world and nature...

. According to the

Big BangThe Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model that explains the early development of the Universe. According to the Big Bang theory, the Universe was once in an extremely hot and dense state which expanded rapidly. This rapid expansion caused the young Universe to cool and resulted in...

theory, the universe cooled from an initial hot, dense state triggering a series of phase transitions much like what happens in condensed-matter systems.

In

physical cosmologyPhysical cosmology, as a branch of astronomy, is the study of the largest-scale structures and dynamics of the universe and is concerned with fundamental questions about its formation and evolution. For most of human history, it was a branch of metaphysics and religion...

, a topological defect is an (often) stable configuration of matter predicted by some theories to form at

phase transitionA phase transition is the transformation of a thermodynamic system from one phase or state of matter to another.A phase of a thermodynamic system and the states of matter have uniform physical properties....

s in the very early universe.

### Symmetry breakdown

Depending on the nature of symmetry breakdown, various

solitonIn mathematics and physics, a soliton is a self-reinforcing solitary wave that maintains its shape while it travels at constant speed. Solitons are caused by a cancellation of nonlinear and dispersive effects in the medium...

s are believed to have formed in the early universe according to the Higgs–Kibble mechanism. The well-known topological defects are

magnetic monopoleA magnetic monopole is a hypothetical particle in particle physics that is a magnet with only one magnetic pole . In more technical terms, a magnetic monopole would have a net "magnetic charge". Modern interest in the concept stems from particle theories, notably the grand unified and superstring...

s,

cosmic stringCosmic strings are hypothetical 1-dimensional topological defects which may have formed during a symmetry breaking phase transition in the early universe when the topology of the vacuum manifold associated to this symmetry breaking is not simply connected. It is expected that at least one string...

s,

domain wallA domain wall is a term used in physics which can have one of two distinct but similar meanings in magnetism, optics, or string theory. These phenomena can all be generically described as topological solitons which occur whenever a discrete symmetry is spontaneously broken.-Magnetism:In magnetism,...

s,

SkyrmionIn theoretical physics, a skyrmion is a mathematical model used to model baryons . It was conceived by Tony Skyrme.-Overview:...

s and

texturesIn cosmology, a texture is a type of topological defect in the structure of spacetime that forms when larger, more complicated symmetry groups are completely broken. They are not as localized as the other defects, and are unstable...

.

As the universe expanded and cooled, symmetries in the laws of physics began breaking down in regions that spread at the

speed of lightThe speed of light in vacuum, usually denoted by c, is a physical constant important in many areas of physics. Its value is 299,792,458 metres per second, a figure that is exact since the length of the metre is defined from this constant and the international standard for time...

; topological defects occur where different regions came into contact with each other. The matter in these defects is in the original symmetric phase, which persists after a phase transition to the new asymmetric new phase is completed.

### Types of topological defects

Various different types of topological defects are possible, with the type of defect formed being determined by the symmetry properties of the matter and the nature of the phase transition. They include:

- Domain wall
A domain wall is a term used in physics which can have one of two distinct but similar meanings in magnetism, optics, or string theory. These phenomena can all be generically described as topological solitons which occur whenever a discrete symmetry is spontaneously broken.-Magnetism:In magnetism,...

s, two-dimensional membranes that form when a discrete symmetry is broken at a phase transition. These walls resemble the walls of a closed-cell foam-Definition:A foam is a substance that is formed by trapping gas in a liquid or solid in a divided form, i.e. by forming gas regions inside liquid regions, leading to different kinds of dispersed media...

, dividing the universe into discrete cells.
- Cosmic string
Cosmic strings are hypothetical 1-dimensional topological defects which may have formed during a symmetry breaking phase transition in the early universe when the topology of the vacuum manifold associated to this symmetry breaking is not simply connected. It is expected that at least one string...

s are one-dimensional lines that form when an axial or cylindrical symmetry is broken.
- Monopole
A magnetic monopole is a hypothetical particle in particle physics that is a magnet with only one magnetic pole . In more technical terms, a magnetic monopole would have a net "magnetic charge". Modern interest in the concept stems from particle theories, notably the grand unified and superstring...

s, point-like defects that form when a spherical symmetry is broken, are predicted to have magnetic charge, either north or south (and so are commonly called "magnetic monopoleA magnetic monopole is a hypothetical particle in particle physics that is a magnet with only one magnetic pole . In more technical terms, a magnetic monopole would have a net "magnetic charge". Modern interest in the concept stems from particle theories, notably the grand unified and superstring...

s").
- Textures form when larger, more complicated symmetry groups are completely broken. They are not as localized as the other defects, and are unstable. Other more complex hybrids of these defect types are also possible.
- Extra-dimensions and higher dimensions
Dimensions is a French project that makes educational movies about mathematics, focusing on spatial geometry. It uses POV-Ray to render some of the animations, and the films are release under a Creative Commons licence....

.

### Observation

Topological defects, of the cosmological type, are extremely high-energy phenomena and are likely impossible to produce in artificial Earth-bound physics experiments, but topological defects that formed during the universe's formation could theoretically be observed.

No topological defects of any type have yet been observed by astronomers, however, and certain types are not compatible with current observations; in particular, if domain walls and monopoles were present in the observable universe, they would result in significant deviations from what astronomers can see. Theories that predict the formation of these structures

*within the observable universe* (see:

*inflation*) can therefore be largely ruled out. On the other hand,

cosmic stringCosmic strings are hypothetical 1-dimensional topological defects which may have formed during a symmetry breaking phase transition in the early universe when the topology of the vacuum manifold associated to this symmetry breaking is not simply connected. It is expected that at least one string...

s have been suggested as providing the initial 'seed'-gravity around which the large-scale structure of the cosmos of matter has condensed. Textures are similarly benign. In late 2007, a

cold spotThe CMB Cold Spot or WMAP Cold Spot is a region of the sky seen in microwaves which analysis found to be unusually large and cold relative to the expected properties of the cosmic microwave background radiation...

in the cosmic microwave background was interpreted as possibly being a sign of a

textureIn cosmology, a texture is a type of topological defect in the structure of spacetime that forms when larger, more complicated symmetry groups are completely broken. They are not as localized as the other defects, and are unstable...

lying in that direction.

## Condensed matter

In condensed matter physics, the theory of homotopy groups provides a natural setting for description and classification of defects in ordered systems. Topological methods have been used in several problems of condensed matter theory. Poénaru and Toulouse used topological methods to obtain a condition for line (string) defects in liquid crystals can cross each other without entanglement. It was a non-trivial application of topology that first led to the discovery of peculiar hydrodynamic behavior in the

*A*-phase of

superfluidSuperfluidity is a state of matter in which the matter behaves like a fluid without viscosity and with extremely high thermal conductivity. The substance, which appears to be a normal liquid, will flow without friction past any surface, which allows it to continue to circulate over obstructions and...

HeliumHelium is the chemical element with atomic number 2 and an atomic weight of 4.002602, which is represented by the symbol He. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas that heads the noble gas group in the periodic table...

-3.

### Classification

An

*ordered medium* is defined as a region of space described by a function

that assigns to every point in the region an

*order parameter*, and the possible values of the order parameter space constitute an

*order parameter space*. The homotopy theory of defects uses the

fundamental groupIn mathematics, more specifically algebraic topology, the fundamental group is a group associated to any given pointed topological space that provides a way of determining when two paths, starting and ending at a fixed base point, can be continuously deformed into each other...

of the order parameter space of a medium to discuss the existence, stability and classifications of topological defects in that medium.

Suppose

is the order parameter space for a medium, and let

be a

Lie groupIn mathematics, a Lie group is a group which is also a differentiable manifold, with the property that the group operations are compatible with the smooth structure...

of transformations on

. Let

be the symmetry subgroup of

for the medium. Then, the order parameter space can be written as the Lie group quotient

If

is a universal cover for

then, it can be shown that

, where

denotes the

homotopy groupIn mathematics, homotopy groups are used in algebraic topology to classify topological spaces. The first and simplest homotopy group is the fundamental group, which records information about loops in a space...

.

Various types of defects in the medium can be characterized by elements of various homotopy groups of the order parameter space. For example, (in three dimensions), line defects correspond to elements of

, point defects correspond to elements of

, textures correspond to elements of

. However, defects which belong to the same

conjugacy classIn mathematics, especially group theory, the elements of any group may be partitioned into conjugacy classes; members of the same conjugacy class share many properties, and study of conjugacy classes of non-abelian groups reveals many important features of their structure...

of

can be deformed continuously to each other, and hence, distinct defects correspond to distinct conjugacy classes.

Poénaru and Toulouse showed that crossing defects get entangled if and only if they are members of separate conjugacy classes of

### Stable defects

Unlike in cosmology and field theory, topological defects in condensed matter can be experimentally observed. Ferromagnetic materials have regions of magnetic alignment separated by domain walls. Nematic and bi-axial nematic liquid crystals display a variety of defects including monopoles, strings, textures etc. Defects can also been found in biochemistry, notably in the process of protein folding.

## Images

## See also

- quantum vortex
In physics, a quantum vortex is a topological defect exhibited in superfluids and superconductors. Superfluids and superconductors are states of matter without friction. They exist only at very low temperatures. The existence of these quantum vortices was independently predicted by Richard Feynman...

- dislocation
In materials science, a dislocation is a crystallographic defect, or irregularity, within a crystal structure. The presence of dislocations strongly influences many of the properties of materials...

- vector soliton
In physical optics or wave optics, a vector soliton is a solitary wave with multiple components coupled together that maintains its shape during propagation. Ordinary solitons maintain their shape but have effectively only one polarization component, while vector solitons have two distinct...

- Quantum topology
Quantum topology is a branch of mathematics that connects quantum mechanics with low-dimensional topology.Dirac notation provides a viewpoint of quantum mechanics which becomes amplified into a framework that can embrace the amplitudes associated with topological spaces and the related embedding of...

- Topological entropy in physics
- Topological order
In physics, topological order is a new kind of order in a quantum state that is beyond the Landau symmetry-breaking description. It cannot be described by local order parameters and long range correlations...

- Topological quantum field theory
A topological quantum field theory is a quantum field theory which computes topological invariants....

- Topological quantum number
In physics, a topological quantum number is any quantity, in a physical theory, that takes on only one of a discrete set of values, due to topological considerations...

- Topological string theory
In theoretical physics, topological string theory is a simplified version of string theory. The operators in topological string theory represent the algebra of operators in the full string theory that preserve a certain amount of supersymmetry...

## External links