In knot theory, a branch of mathematics, the trefoil knot is the simplest example of a nontrivial knot. The trefoil can be obtained by joining the two loose ends of a common overhand knot, resulting in a knotted loop. As the simplest knot, the trefoil is fundamental to the study of mathematical knot theory.

Common nameOverhand knot
Arf invariant1
Braid length3
Braid no.2
Bridge no.2
Crosscap no.1
Crossing no.3
Hyperbolic volume0
Stick no.6
Tunnel no.1
Unknotting no.1
Conway notation[3]
A–B notation31
Dowker notation4, 6, 2
Last / Next0141
alternating, torus, fibered, pretzel, prime, knot slice, reversible, tricolorable, twist

The trefoil knot is named after the three-leaf clover (or trefoil) plant.

Descriptions edit

The trefoil knot can be defined as the curve obtained from the following parametric equations:


The (2,3)-torus knot is also a trefoil knot. The following parametric equations give a (2,3)-torus knot lying on torus  :

Video on making a trefoil knot.
Overhand knot becomes a trefoil knot by joining the ends.
A realization of the trefoil knot.

Any continuous deformation of the curve above is also considered a trefoil knot. Specifically, any curve isotopic to a trefoil knot is also considered to be a trefoil. In addition, the mirror image of a trefoil knot is also considered to be a trefoil. In topology and knot theory, the trefoil is usually defined using a knot diagram instead of an explicit parametric equation.

In algebraic geometry, the trefoil can also be obtained as the intersection in C2 of the unit 3-sphere S3 with the complex plane curve of zeroes of the complex polynomial z2 + w3 (a cuspidal cubic).

A left-handed trefoil and a right-handed trefoil.

If one end of a tape or belt is turned over three times and then pasted to the other, the edge forms a trefoil knot.[1]

Symmetry edit

The trefoil knot is chiral, in the sense that a trefoil knot can be distinguished from its own mirror image. The two resulting variants are known as the left-handed trefoil and the right-handed trefoil. It is not possible to deform a left-handed trefoil continuously into a right-handed trefoil, or vice versa. (That is, the two trefoils are not ambient isotopic.)

Though chiral, the trefoil knot is also invertible, meaning that there is no distinction between a counterclockwise-oriented and a clockwise-oriented trefoil. That is, the chirality of a trefoil depends only on the over and under crossings, not the orientation of the curve.

The trefoil knot is tricolorable.
Form of trefoil knot without visual three-fold symmetry.

Nontriviality edit

The trefoil knot is nontrivial, meaning that it is not possible to "untie" a trefoil knot in three dimensions without cutting it. Mathematically, this means that a trefoil knot is not isotopic to the unknot. In particular, there is no sequence of Reidemeister moves that will untie a trefoil.

Proving this requires the construction of a knot invariant that distinguishes the trefoil from the unknot. The simplest such invariant is tricolorability: the trefoil is tricolorable, but the unknot is not. In addition, virtually every major knot polynomial distinguishes the trefoil from an unknot, as do most other strong knot invariants.

Classification edit

In knot theory, the trefoil is the first nontrivial knot, and is the only knot with crossing number three. It is a prime knot, and is listed as 31 in the Alexander-Briggs notation. The Dowker notation for the trefoil is 4 6 2, and the Conway notation is [3].

The trefoil can be described as the (2,3)-torus knot. It is also the knot obtained by closing the braid σ13.

The trefoil is an alternating knot. However, it is not a slice knot, meaning it does not bound a smooth 2-dimensional disk in the 4-dimensional ball; one way to prove this is to note that its signature is not zero. Another proof is that its Alexander polynomial does not satisfy the Fox-Milnor condition.

The trefoil is a fibered knot, meaning that its complement in   is a fiber bundle over the circle  . The trefoil K may be viewed as the set of pairs   of complex numbers such that   and  . Then this fiber bundle has the Milnor map   as the fibre bundle projection of the knot complement   to the circle  . The fibre is a once-punctured torus. Since the knot complement is also a Seifert fibred with boundary, it has a horizontal incompressible surface—this is also the fiber of the Milnor map. (This assumes the knot has been thickened to become a solid torus Nε(K), and that the interior of this solid torus has been removed to create a compact knot complement  .)

Invariants edit

The Alexander polynomial of the trefoil knot is

and the Conway polynomial is[2]
The Jones polynomial is
and the Kauffman polynomial of the trefoil is
The HOMFLY polynomial of the trefoil is
The knot group of the trefoil is given by the presentation
or equivalently[3]
This group is isomorphic to the braid group with three strands.

In religion and culture edit

As the simplest nontrivial knot, the trefoil is a common motif in iconography and the visual arts. For example, the common form of the triquetra symbol is a trefoil, as are some versions of the Germanic Valknut.

In modern art, the woodcut Knots by M. C. Escher depicts three trefoil knots whose solid forms are twisted in different ways.[4]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ Shaw, George Russell (MCMXXXIII). Knots: Useful & Ornamental, p.11. ISBN 978-0-517-46000-9.
  2. ^ "3_1", The Knot Atlas.
  3. ^ Weisstein, Eric W. "Trefoil Knot". MathWorld. Accessed: May 5, 2013.
  4. ^ The Official M.C. Escher Website — Gallery — "Knots"

External links edit