Homological algebra

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Homological algebra is the branch of mathematics which studies homology in a general algebraic setting. It is a relatively young discipline, whose origins can be traced to investigations in combinatorial topology (a precursor to algebraic topology) and abstract algebra (theory of modules and syzygies) at the end of the 19th century, chiefly by Henri Poincaré and David Hilbert.

The development of homological algebra was closely intertwined with the emergence of category theory. By and large, homological algebra is the study of homological functors and the intricate algebraic structures that they entail. One quite useful and ubiquitous concept in mathematics is that of chain complexes, which can be studied both through their homology and cohomology. Homological algebra affords the means to extract information contained in these complexes and present it in the form of homological invariants of rings, modules, topological spaces, and other 'tangible' mathematical objects. A powerful tool for doing this is provided by spectral sequences.

From its very origins, homological algebra has played an enormous role in algebraic topology. Its sphere of influence has gradually expanded and presently includes commutative algebra, algebraic geometry, algebraic number theory, representation theory, mathematical physics, operator algebras, complex analysis, and the theory of partial differential equations. K-theory is an independent discipline which draws upon methods of homological algebra, as does the noncommutative geometry of Alain Connes.


Chain complexes and homology

The chain complex is the central notion of homological algebra. It is a sequence   (C_\bullet, d_\bullet) of abelian groups and group homomorphisms, with the property that the composition of any two consecutive maps is zero:

The elements of Cn are called n-chains and the homomorphisms dn are called the boundary maps or differentials. The chain groups Cn may be endowed with extra structure; for example, they may be vector spaces or modules over a fixed ring R. The differentials must preserve the extra structure if it exists; for example, they must be linear maps or homomorphisms of R-modules. For notational convenience, restrict attention to abelian groups (more correctly, to the category Ab of abelian groups); a celebrated theorem by Barry Mitchell implies the results will generalize to any abelian category. Every chain complex defines two further sequences of abelian groups, the cycles Zn = Ker dn and the boundaries Bn = Im dn+1, where Ker d and Im d denote the kernel and the image of d. Since the composition of two consecutive boundary maps is zero, these groups are embedded into each other as

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