Chern numbers for singular varieties and elliptic homology


A fundamental goal of algebraic geometry is to do for singular varieties whatever we can do for smooth ones. Intersection homology, for example, directly produces groups associated to any variety which have almost all the properties of the usual homology groups of a smooth variety. Minimal model theory suggests the possibility of working more indirectly by relating any singular variety to a variety which is smoothor nearly so.

Here we use ideas from minimal model theory to define some characteristic numbers for singular varieties, generalizing the Chern numbers of a smooth variety. This was suggested by Goresky and MacPherson as a next natural problem after the definition of intersection homology [11]. We find that only a subspace of the Chern numbers can be defined for singular varieties. A convenient way to describe this subspace is to say that a smooth variety has a fundamental class in complex bordism, whereas a singular variety can at most have a fundamental class in a weaker homology theory, elliptic homology. We use this idea to give an algebro-geometric definition of elliptic homology: “complex bordism modulo flops equals elliptic homology.”

This paper was inspired by some questions asked by Jack Morava. The descriptions of elliptic homology given by Gerald Höhn [13] were also an important influence. Thanks to Dave Bayer, Mike Stillman, John Stembridge, Sheldon Katz, and Stein Stromme for their computer algebra programs Macaulay, SF, and Schubert, which helped in guessing the right answer.


Burt Totaro