The Official String Theory Web Site:--> Mathematics --> Math Guide II -- Graduate and beyond

Guide to math needed to study physics

Here are some of the topics in mathematics that a person who wants to learn advanced topics in theoretical physics, especially string theory, should become familiar with.
Real analysis
  In real analysis, students learn abstract properties of real functions as mappings, isomorphism, fixed points, and basic topology such as sets, neighborhoods, invariants and homeomorphisms.
Complex analysis
  Complex analysis is an important foundation for learning string theory. Functions of a complex variable, complex manifolds, holomorphic functions, harmonic forms, Kähler manifolds, Riemann surfaces and Teichmuller spaces are topics one needs to become familiar with in order to study string theory.
Group theory
  Modern particle physics could not have progressed without an understanding of symmetries and group transformations. Group theory usually begins with the group of permutations on N objects, and other finite groups. Concepts such as representations, irreducibility, classes and characters.
Differential geometry
  Einstein's General Theory of Relativity turned non-Euclidean geometry from a controversial advance in mathematics into a component of graduate physics education. Differential geometry begins with the study of differentiable manifolds, coordinate systems, vectors and tensors. Students should learn about metrics and covariant derivatives, and how to calculate curvature in coordinate and non-coordinate bases.
Lie groups
  A Lie group is a group defined as a set of mappings on a differentiable manifold. Lie groups have been especially important in modern physics. The study of Lie groups combines techniques from group theory and basic differential geometry to develop the concepts of Lie derivatives, Killing vectors, Lie algebras and matrix representations.
Differential forms
  The mathematics of differential forms, developed by Elie Cartan at the beginning of the 20th century, has been powerful technology for understanding Hamiltonian dynamics, relativity and gauge field theory. Students begin with antisymmetric tensors, then develop the concepts of exterior product, exterior derivative, orientability, volume elements, and integrability conditions.
  Homology concerns regions and boundaries of spaces. For example, the boundary of a two-dimensional circular disk is a one-dimensional circle. But a one-dimensional circle has no edges, and hence no boundary. In homology this case is generalized to "The boundary of a boundary is zero." Students learn about simplexes, complexes, chains, and homology groups.
  Cohomology and homology are related, as one might suspect from the names. Cohomology is the study of the relationship between closed and exact differential forms defined on some manifold M. Students explore the generalization of Stokes' theorem, de Rham cohomology, the de Rahm complex, de Rahm's theorem and cohomology groups.
  Lightly speaking, homotopy is the study of the hole in the donut. Homotopy is important in string theory because closed strings can wind around donut holes and get stuck, with physical consequences. Students learn about paths and loops, homotopic maps of loops, contractibility, the fundamental group, higher homotopy groups, and the Bott periodicity theorem.
Fiber bundles
  Fiber bundles comprise an area of mathematics that studies spaces defined on other spaces through the use of a projection map of some kind. For example, in electromagnetism there is a U(1) vector potential associated with every point of the spacetime manifold. Therefore one could study electromagnetism abstractly as a U(1) fiber bundle over some spacetime manifold M. Concepts developed include tangent bundles, principal bundles, Hopf maps, covariant derivatives, curvature, and the connection to gauge field theories in physics.
Characteristic classes
  The subject of characteristic classes applies cohomology to fiber bundles to understand the barriers to untwisting a fiber bundle into what is known as a trivial bundle. This is useful because it can reduce complex physical problems to math problems that are already solved. The Chern class is particularly relevant to string theory.
Index theorems
  In physics we are often interested in knowing about the space of zero eigenvalues of a differential operator. The index of such an operator is related to the dimension of that space of zero eigenvalues. The subject of index theorems and characteristic classes is concerned with
Supersymmetry and supergravity
  The mathematics behind supersymmetry starts with two concepts: graded Lie algebras, and Grassmann numbers. A graded algebra is one that uses both commutation and anti-commutation relations. Grassmann numbers are anti-commuting numbers, so that x times y = –y times x. The mathematical technology needed to work in supersymmetry includes an understanding of graded Lie algebras, spinors in arbitrary spacetime dimensions, covariant derivatives of spinors, torsion, Killing spinors, and Grassmann multiplication, derivation and integration, and Kähler potentials.
Black Holes

Books at

Geometrical Methods of Mathematical Physics

Geometry, Topology and Physics (Graduate Texts in Physics)

Group Theory in Physics

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