Framed M-branes, corners, and topological invariants

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We uncover and highlight relations between the M-branes in M-theory and various topological invariants: the Hopf invariant over Q, Z and Z2, the Kervaire invariant, the f-invariant, and the ν-invariant. This requires either a framing or a corner structure. The canonical framing provides a minimum for the classical action and the change of framing encodes the structure of the action and possible anomalies. We characterize the flux quantization condition on the C-field and the topological action of the M5-brane via the Hopf invariant, and the dual of the C-field as (a refinement of) an element of Hopf invariant two. In the signature formulation, the contribution to the M-brane effective action is given by the Maslov index of the corner. The Kervaire invariant implies that the effective action of the M5-brane is quadratic. Our study leads to viewing the self-dual string, which is the boundary of the M2-brane on the M5-brane worldvolume, as a string theory in the sense of cobordism of manifolds with corners. We show that the dynamics of the C-field and its dual are encoded in a unified way in the 4-sphere, which suggests the corresponding spectrum as the generalized cohomology theory describing the fields. The effective action of the corner is captured by the f-invariant, which is an invariant at chromatic level two. Finally, considering M-theory on manifolds with G2 holonomy, we show that the canonical G2 structure minimizes the topological part of the M5-brane action. This is done via the ν-invariant and a variant that we introduce related to the one-loop polynomial.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number062304
JournalJournal of Mathematical Physics
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Mathematical Physics


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