Kylerec Overview

Updates (June 11, 2017): Added link to other notes from Kylerec workshop, and fixed an error caught by Chris Wendl in the comments.

I’m very excited to be joining this blog!

This is the first of a series of posts about the content of the Kylerec workshop, held May 19-25 near Lake Tahoe, which focused on fillings of contact manifolds. Under the guidance of our mentors, Roger Casals, Steven Sivek, and Laura Starkston, we worked from the basic theory of fillings through some state-of-the-art results. Many of the basics have been discussed on this blog already in Laura Starkston’s posts from January 2013: Part 1 and Part 2 on Fillings of Contact Manifolds. For a more thorough introduction to types of filling and the differences between them, I suggest reading those posts (and the accompanying comments by Paolo Ghiginni and Chris Wendl). This post will remain self-contained anyway.

One can find notes that I took (except for three lectures, due to technical difficulties) at the Kylerec 2017 tab at this link. Other notes (with shorter load times, and including the ones I’m missing) will be posted on the Kylerec website soon are now posted on the Kylerec website here.

Comments and corrections are very welcome!


We quickly review the various notions of fillings of a contact manifold. We shall always assume that our manifolds are oriented and contact structures cooriented. As a starting point, one might be interested in smooth fillings of contact manifolds. It turns out that this problem is rather uninteresting. Every contact manifold of dimension 2n+1 has a structure group which can be reduced to U(n) \times 1, but the complex bordism group is well known to satisfy \Omega^U_{2n+1} = 0. As a consequence, every contact manifold is smoothly fillable. We must therefore consider fillability questions which extend beyond the realm of complex bordism in order to discover interesting phenomena.

These notions are as follows, in (strictly!) increasing order of strength.

  • We say a contact 3-manifold (M^3,\xi) is weakly fillable if it is the smooth boundary of a symplectic manifold (W^4,\omega) such that \omega|_{\xi} > 0. There is a generalization in higher dimensions due to Massot, Niederkrüger, and Wendl, but we omit it here. (Simply requiring that \omega|_{\xi} is a positive symplectic form in the same conformal symplectic class as the natural one on \xi, i.e. is d\alpha|_{\xi} up to scaling where \alpha is a contact form for \xi, implies strong fillability in higher dimensions, by McDuff.)
  • We say a contact manifold (M^{2n-1},\xi) is strongly fillable if there is a weak filling (W^{2n},\omega) such that one can find a Liouville vector field V in a neighborhood of M, i.e. one such that \mathcal{L}_V\omega = \omega, such that (\iota_V\omega)|_M gives a (properly cooriented) contact form for \xi.
  • We say a contact manifold (M^{2n-1},\xi) is exactly fillable if there is a strong filling such that the Liouville vector field V can be extended to all of (W,\omega). In other words, M is the contact boundary of a Liouville domain (W,\omega = d\alpha) where \alpha = \iota_V\omega.
  • We say a contact manifold (M^{2n-1},\xi) is Weinstein (or Stein) fillable if it is exactly fillable by some (W,\omega = d\alpha), where \alpha = \iota_V\omega, such that there is also a Morse function f on W such that V is gradient-like for f and M is a maximal regular level set. In other words, M is the contact boundary of a Weinstein domain.

As a final remark, there is a notion of overtwistedness in contact manifolds. In 3-dimensions, this is characterized by the existence of an overtwisted disk. This was known to obstruct all types of fillings, due to Eliashberg and Gromov. In higher dimensions, overtwistedness was defined in a paper of Borman, Eliashberg, and Murphy, which was discussed on this blog by Laura Starkston and Roger Casals, starting with this post and concluding with this one. This definition implies the existence of a plastikstufe as defined by Niederkrüger, which had been already shown to obstruct fillings (strongly in the same paper, weakly in the paper by Massot, Niederkrüger, and Wendl). In other words, in any dimension, overtwistedness implies not fillable. A contact manifold which is not overtwisted is called tight, so equivalently, fillable implies tight, in all dimensions.

To summarize this section:

Tight < Weakly fillable < Strongly fillable < Exactly fillable < Weinstein fillable

where all of the inclusions turn out to be strict.

Two Motivating Questions

Question 1: What tools do we have at each level of fillability?

The easiest type of filling to understand is that of the Weinstein filling, since Weinstein domains have an explicit surgery theory, which lends themselves to concrete geometric descriptions. Most notably, a Weinstein domain can be thought of as a symplectic Lefschetz fibration, which naturally has an open book decomposition on its boundary whose monodromy is a product of positive Dehn twists. Hence, Weinstein fillings and fillability can be studied through studying supporting open book decompositions for a contact manifold (M,\xi).

Another rather powerful tool is the study of J-holomorphic curves. Let us provide a quick example: the proof that fillability of a contact 3-manifold implies tightness. One assumes by way of contradiction that an overtwisted contact 3-manifold has a filling. Then one considers a certain compact 1-dimensional moduli space of J-holomorphic curves with boundary on the overtwisted disk. One finds an explicit component of this moduli space which has one endpoint (a constant disk) but cannot have another endpoint, which contradicts the compactness of the moduli space. In higher dimensions, studying similar moduli spaces of J-holomorphic curves yields obstructions to fillings.

There are some other miscellaneous techniques. For example, Liouville domains have attached to them a symplectic homology, which provides another tool for the case of exact fillings. And in the case of 3-dimensional contact manifolds, one can also study the Seiberg-Witten invariants of a given filling.

Question 2: How can we study the topology of different fillings? Or tell when fillings are distinct even if they have the same homology?

J-holomorphic curves come with extra evaluation maps which allow one to study how the moduli space of curves compares to some underlying topology, e.g. of the filling or of the contact manifold. This is a technique which comes up many times in different contexts, and it sometimes allows us to produce maps between the filling or the contact manifold in question which do not exist for any other obvious reason.

Similarly, symplectic homology in its two flavors SH and SH^{+} fits into an exact triangle with Morse homology, and so one can understand the topology of a filling from its symplectic homology. One might be interested, for example, in studying fillings with SH = 0, in which case the homology of the filling is completely determined by SH^{+}. Alternatively, SH can be used directly to distinguish fillings.

Overview of Kylerec

More detailed posts about the contents of Kylerec will appear in future blog posts, but I will outline here precisely what was covered.

Day 1: After an overview talk, we spent the rest of the day studying the surgery theory of Weinstein manifolds, and began our study of the correspondence between Weinstein fillings, Lefschetz fibrations, and open book decompositions.

Day 2: We highlighted some results from this correspondence, and then turned towards an introduction to the theory of J-holomorphic curves, including applications of this theory to fillings via McDuff’s classification result as well as Wendl’s J-holomorphic foliations.

Day 3: On our short day, we first discussed some applications of J-holomorphic curves to high-dimensional fillings due to Barth, Geiges, and Zehmisch (for example reproving the result of Eliashberg, Floer, and McDuff that the standard sphere has a unique aspherical filling), and applied Wendl’s theorem (as discussed in Day 2) following a paper of Plamenevskaya and Van Horn-Morris to show that many contact structures on the lens spaces L(p,1) have unique Weinstein fillings up to deformation equivalence.

Day 4: We discussed the Seiberg-Witten equations, how they appear in symplectic geometry, and how they are used by Lisca and Matic to distinguish contact structures on homology 3-spheres which are homotopic (through plane fields) but not isotopic (through contact structures). We also discussed how Calabi-Yau caps, as defined by Li, Mak, and Yasui, can be used to prove certain uniqueness results on fillings of unit cotangent bundles of surfaces, as in this paper by Sivek and Van Horn-Morris.

Day 5: On our last day, we focused mainly on symplectic homology (and its variants). In one talk, we performed computations which allowed us to distinguish contact structures on standard spheres (see Ustilovsky’s paper) and to compute the symplectic homology of fillings of certain Brieskorn spheres (see Uebele’s paper). We also discussed Lazarev’s generalization of M.-L.Yau’s theorem (that subcritical Weinstein fillings have isomorphic integral cohomology) to the flexible case.


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5 responses to “Kylerec Overview

  1. A small correction: what McDuff proved about strong vs. weak in higher dimensions was actually that if \omega|_\xi is a positive symplectic form in the same conformal class with d\alpha|_\xi (for \alpha the contact form), then the filling is strong. In higher dimensions, this is a stricter condition than just \omega^{n-1}|_\xi > 0, but it’s still surprising (at least to me) that it forces \omega to be exact and everything else. I believe it remains completely unknown whether any nontrivial theorem can be proved about the condition \omega^{n-1}|_\xi > 0 in higher dimensions. Back when Massot and Niederkrüger and I were thinking about these things a lot, I vaguely recall tossing around fantasies of proving that ALL contact manifolds in higher dimensions admit a “filling” of this type, though I don’t recall getting anywhere with that.

    • ksackel

      Great, thanks Chris! I should have noticed that the condition \omega^{n-1}|_{\xi} > 0 is implied by your higher-dimensional definition of weak filling, and so is strictly weaker.

  2. Pingback: Kylerec – On J-holomorphic curves, part 1 | The Electric Handle Slide

  3. Pingback: Kylerec – Weinstein fillings | The Electric Handle Slide

  4. Pingback: Kylerec – Seiberg-Witten and Fillings | The Electric Handle Slide

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