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dθ = ’πi § ωi ,
dωi = 2ρ § ωi ’ ±i § ωj + πi § θ,

it is tempting to de¬ne
πi = πi +
˜ nω ,
and rewrite them as
θ 0 πj
˜ θ
=’ §
d .
ωi ωj
π j

Observe that this looks exactly like the structure equation characterizing the
Levi-Civita connection of a Riemannian metric. We justify and use this as
Consider the quadratic form on B3

θ2 + (ωi )2 .

An easy computation shows that for any vertical vector ¬eld v ∈ Ker(π— ) for
π : B3 ’ Q,
Lv θ 2 + (ωi )2 = 0.
This means that our quadratic form is the pullback of a quadratic form on
Q, which de¬nes there a Riemannian metric ds2 . There is locally a bundle
isomorphism over Q
B3 ’ F(Q, ds2)
from B3 , which was constructed from the neo-classical Poincar´-Cartan form
Π, to the orthonormal frame bundle of this Riemannian metric. Under this iso-
morphism, the Q-semibasic forms θ, ω i correspond to the tautological semibasic
forms on F(Q, ds2), while the matrix
0 πj
π j

corresponds to the Levi-Civita connection matrix. The contact manifold M , as a
quotient of B3 , may be then identi¬ed with the manifold of tangent hyperplanes
to Q; and the Poincar´-Cartan form is
’θ § (πi § ω(i) )
Π =
’θ § (˜i § ω(i) ’ Hω).
= π

We recognize this as exactly the Poincar´-Cartan form for the prescribed mean
curvature H = H(q) system, in an arbitrary (n + 1)-dimensional Riemannian
manifold. The following is what we have shown.

Theorem 2.5 A de¬nite neo-classical Poincar´-Cartan form (M, Π) whose dif-
ijk ij i
ferential invariants satisfy T = 0 and U = »δj with » < 0 is locally equiv-
alent to the Poincar´-Cartan of the prescribed mean curvature system on some
Riemannian manifold (Qn+1 , ds2).

We will consider these Poincar´-Cartan forms further in §4.1, when we discuss
the formula for the second variation of a Lagrangian functional FΛ. At that
time, we will also see an interpretation of the partial reduction B2 ⊃ B3 in
terms of the Riemannian geometry. Note that it is easy, given (M, Π) as in
the proposition, to determine the prescribed function H(q) by carrying out
the reductions described above, and to determine the Riemann curvature of
the ambient (n + 1)-manifold in terms of the connection 1-forms πi, ±i . The
˜ j
Euclidean minimal surface system discussed in §1.4 is the case H = 0, Rijkl = 0.

The fact that such an (M, Π) canonically determines (Q, ds2) implies the

Corollary 2.1 The symmetry group of (M, Π) is equal to the group of isome-
tries of (Q, ds2) that preserve the function H.
A consequence of this is the fact, claimed in §1.4, that all symmetries of the
minimal surface Poincar´-Cartan form”and hence, all classical conservation
laws for the Euler-Lagrange equation”are induced by Euclidean motions.
Finally, in case T ijk = 0 and U ij = »δj with » > 0 instead of » < 0, one

can carry out similar reductions, eventually producing on the quotient space
Qn+1 a Lorentz metric ds2 = ’θ2 + (ωi )2 ; the Poincar´-Cartan form is then
equivalent to that for prescribed mean curvature of space-like hypersurfaces.

8 As
usual, this assumes that the foliation associated to JΠ is simple; otherwise, only a
local reformulation holds.
Chapter 3

Conformally Invariant

Among non-linear Euler-Lagrange equations on Rn , the largest symmetry group
that seems to occur is the (n+1)(n+2) -dimensional conformal group. This consists
of di¬eomorphisms of the n-sphere that preserve its standard conformal struc-
ture, represented by the Euclidean metric under stereographic projection to Rn .
These maximally symmetric equations have a number of special properties, in-
cluding of course an abundance of classical conservation laws as predicted by
Noether™s theorem. This chapter concerns the geometry of the Poincar´-Cartan
forms associated to these equations, and that of the corresponding conservation
We will begin by presenting background material on conformal geometry.
This includes a discussion of the ¬‚at conformal structure on the n-sphere and
its symmetry group, a construction of a canonical parallelized principal bundle
over a manifold with conformal structure, and the de¬nition of the conformal
Laplacian, a second-order di¬erential operator associated to a conformal struc-
ture. This material will provide the framework for understanding the geometry
of non-linear Poisson equations, in particular the maximally symmetric non-
linear example
∆u = Cu n’2 , C = 0.
After developing the geometric context for this equation, we will continue the
equivalence problem for Poincar´-Cartan forms, pursuing the branch in which
these Euler-Lagrange equations occur.
We then turn to conservation laws for these conformally invariant equations.
The elaborate geometric structure allows several approaches to computing these
conservation laws, and we will carry out one of them in detail. The analogous
development for non-linear wave equations involves conformal structures with
Lorentz signature, and the conserved quantities for maximally symmetric Euler-
Lagrange equations in this case give rise to integral identities that have been
very useful in analysis.


3.1 Background Material on Conformal Geom-
In this section, we discuss some of the less widely known aspects of conformal
geometry. In the ¬rst subsection, we de¬ne a ¬‚at model for conformal geome-
try which is characterized by its large symmetry group, and we give structure
equations in terms of the Maurer-Cartan form of this group. In the second sub-
section, we give Cartan™s solution to the local equivalence problem for general
conformal structures on manifolds. This consists of an algorithm by which one
associates to any conformal structure (N, [ds2 ]) a parallelized principal bundle
P ’ N having structure equations of a speci¬c algebraic form. In the third
subsection, we introduce a second-order di¬erential operator ∆, called the con-
formal Laplacian, which is associated to any conformal structure and which
appears in the Euler-Lagrange equations of conformal geometry that we study
in the remainder of the chapter. The fundamental de¬nition is the following.
De¬nition 3.1 A conformal inner-product at a point p ∈ N is an equiva-
lence class of positive inner-products on Tp N , where two such inner-products
are equivalent if one is a positive scalar multiple of the other. A conformal
structure, or conformal metric, on N consists of a conformal inner-product at
each point p ∈ N , varying smoothly in an obvious sense.
Note that this emphasizes the pointwise data of the conformal structure, unlike
the usual de¬nition of a conformal structure as an equivalence class of global
Riemannian metrics. An easy topological argument shows that these notions
are equivalent.

3.1.1 Flat Conformal Space
We start with oriented Lorentz space Ln+2 , with coordinates x = (x0 , . . . , xn+1),
dx0 § · · · § dxn+1 > 0,
and inner-product

x, y = ’(x0yn+1 + xn+1y0 ) + xi y i .

Throughout this section, we use the index ranges 0 ¤ a, b ¤ n + 1 and 1 ¤ i, j ¤
A non-zero vector x ∈ Ln+2 is null if x, x = 0. A null vector x is positive
if x0 > 0 or xn+1 > 0; this designation is often called a “time-orientation”
for Ln+2 . The symmetries of Lorentz space are the linear transformations of
Ln+2 preserving the inner-product, the orientation, and the time-orientation,
and they constitute a connected Lie group SO o (n + 1, 1). We denote the space
of positive null vectors by

Q = {x ∈ Ln+2 : x, x = 0, and x0 > 0 or xn+1 > 0},

which is one half of the familiar light-cone, with axis {xi = x0 ’ xn+1 = 0}.
We now de¬ne ¬‚at conformal space R to be the space of null lines in Ln+2.
As a manifold, R is a non-singular quadric in the projective space P(Ln+2),
which is preserved by the natural action of the symmetry group SO o (n + 1, 1)
of Ln+2. We will describe the ¬‚at conformal structure on R below, in terms
of the Maurer-Cartan form of the group. Note that the obvious map Q ’ R,
which we will write as x ’ [x], gives a principal bundle with structure group
R— .
In the literature, R is usually de¬ned as Rn with a point added at in¬nity
to form a topological sphere. To make this identi¬cation, note that for x, y ∈ Q,
we have x, y ¤ 0, with equality if and only if [x] = [y]. We then claim that
Hy = {x ∈ Q : x, y = ’1}
is di¬eomorphic to both Rn and R\[y]; this is easily proved for y = (0, . . . , 0, 1),
for instance, where the map Rn ’ Hy is given by
(x1, . . . , xn) ’ (1, x1, . . . , xn, 1 ||x||2). (3.1)

The classical description of the conformal structure on R is obtained by trans-
porting the Euclidean metric on Rn to Hy , and noting that for y = y with
[y] = [y ], this gives unequal but conformally equivalent metrics on R\[y]. The
fact that SOo (n + 1, 1) acts transitively on R then implies that for [x] = [y] the
conformal structures obtained on R\[x] and R\[y] are the same.
A Lorentz frame is a positively oriented basis f = (e0 , . . . , en+1) of Ln+2, in
which e0 and en+1 positive null vectors, and for which the inner-product is (in
blocks of size 1, n, 1, like most matrices in this section)
« 
0 ’1
e a , eb =  0 I n 0  .
’1 0 0
We let P denote the set of all Lorentz frames. There is a standard simply
transitive right-action of SO o (n + 1, 1) on P , by which we can identify the two
spaces in a way that depends on a choice of basepoint in P ; this gives P the
structure of a smooth manifold. Because we have used the right-action, the
pullback to P of any left-invariant 1-form on SO o (n + 1, 1) is independent of
this choice of basepoint. These pullbacks can be intrinsically described on P as
follows. We view each ea as a map P ’ Ln+2, and we de¬ne 1-forms ρ, ω i ,
βj , ±i on P by decomposing the Ln+2 -valued 1-forms dea in terms of the bases
{eb }: ±
 de0 = 2e0 ρ + ei ωi ,
dej = e0 βj + ei ±i + en+1 ωj ,

den+1 = ei βi ’ 2en+1ρ.
« 
2ρ βj 0
 ω i ±i βi  .
d e0 ej en+1 = e0 ei en+1 j
0 ωj ’2ρ

These forms satisfy ±i + ±j = 0 but are otherwise linearly independent, and
j i
they span the left-invariant 1-forms on SO o (n + 1, 1) under the preceding iden-
ti¬cation with P . Decomposing the exterior derivatives of these equations gives
the Maurer-Cartan equations, expressed in matrix form as
« « « 
2ρ βj 0 2ρ βj 0
2ρ βk 0
d  ω i ±i βi  +  ω i ± i βi  §  ωk ±k βk  = 0. (3.2)
j j
j k
0 ωj ’2ρ
0 ω ’2ρ ’2ρ

All of the local geometry of R that is invariant under SO o (n + 1, 1) can be
expressed in terms of these Maurer-Cartan forms. In particular, the ¬bers of
the map πR : P ’ R given by

πR : (e0 , . . . , en+1) ’ [e0]

are the integral manifolds of the integrable Pfa¬an system

IR = {ω1 , . . . , ωn }.

This ¬bration has the structure of a principal bundle, whose structure group
consists of matrices in SO o (n + 1, 1) of the form
«2 


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( 48 .)