In topology, knot theory is the study of mathematical knots. While inspired by knots which appear in daily life in shoelaces and rope, a mathematician's knot differs in that the ends are joined together so that it cannot be undone. In precise mathematical language, a knot is an embedding of a circle in 3-dimensional Euclidean space, R 3. Two mathematical knots are equivalent if one can be transformed into the other via a deformation of R 3 upon itself (known as an ambient isotopy); these transformations correspond to manipulations of a knotted string that do not involve cutting the string or passing the string through itself.
Knots can be described in various ways. Given a method of description, however, there may be more than one description that represents the same knot. For example, a common method of describing a knot is a planar diagram called a knot diagram. Any given knot can be drawn in many different ways using a knot diagram. Therefore, a fundamental problem in knot theory is determining when two descriptions represent the same knot.
A complete algorithmic solution to this problem exists, which has unknown complexity. In practice, knots are often distinguished by using a knot invariant, a "quantity" which is the same when computed from different descriptions of a knot. Important invariants include knot polynomials, knot groups, and hyperbolic invariants.
The original motivation for the founders of knot theory was to create a table of knots and links, which are knots of several components entangled with each other. Over six billion knots and links have been tabulated since the beginnings of knot theory in the 19th century.
To gain further insight, mathematicians have generalized the knot concept in several ways. Knots can be considered in other three- dimensional spaces and objects other than circles can be used; see knot (mathematics). Higher dimensional knots are n-dimensional spheres in m-dimensional Euclidean space.
The generalized Poincaré conjecture states that Every simply connected, closed n-manifold is homeomorphic to the n-sphere. Every n- dimensional knot can therefore be stretched into a trivial n-sphere. N-dimensional knots are generally not decomposable into 2- dimensional knots, though they can be projected to superpositions of lower- dimensional knots.