Volume distortion in homotopy groups
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Volume distortion in homotopy groups

Abstract

Given a finite metric CW complex $X$ and an element $\alpha \in \pi_n(X)$, what are the properties of a geometrically optimal representative of $\alpha$? We study the optimal volume of $k\alpha$ as a function of $k$. Asymptotically, this function, whose inverse, for reasons of tradition, we call the volume distortion, turns out to be an invariant with respect to the rational homotopy of $X$. We provide a number of examples and techniques for studying this invariant, with a special focus on spaces with few rational homotopy groups. Our main theorem characterizes those $X$ in which all non-torsion homotopy classes are undistorted, that is, their distortion functions are linear.

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