We propose in this paper a method for studying contact structures in 3-manifolds by means of branched surfaces. We explain what it means for a contact structure to be carried by a branched surface embedded in a 3-manifold. To make the transition from contact structures to branched surfaces, we first define auxiliary objects called σ-confoliations and pure contaminations, both generalizing contact structures. We study various deformations of these objects and show that the σ-confoliations and pure contaminations obtained by suitably modifying a contact structure remember the contact structure up to isotopy. After defining tightness for all pure contaminations in a natural way, generalizing the definition of tightness for contact structures, we obtain some conditions on (the embedding of) a branched surface in a 3-manifold sufficient to guarantee that any pure contamination carried by the branched surface is tight. We also find conditions sufficient to prove that a branched surface carries only overtwisted (non-tight) contact structures. Our long-term goal in developing these methods is twofold: Not only do we want to study tight contact structures and pure contaminations, but we also wish to use them as tools for studying 3-manifold topology.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Applied Mathematics
- Branched surface
- Contact structure