The Euler characteristic was originally defined for polyhedra and used to prove various theorems about them, including the classification of the Platonic solids. It was stated for Platonic solids in 1537 in an unpublished manuscript by Francesco Maurolico. Leonhard Euler, for whom the concept is named, introduced it for convex polyhedra more generally but failed to rigorously prove that it is an invariant. In modern mathematics, the Euler characteristic arises from homology and, more abstractly, homological algebra.
This equation, stated by Leonhard Euler in 1758, is known as Euler's polyhedron formula. It corresponds to the Euler characteristic of the sphere (i.e. χ = 2), and applies identically to spherical polyhedra. An illustration of the formula on all Platonic polyhedra is given below.
The surfaces of nonconvex polyhedra can have various Euler characteristics:
This version holds both for convex polyhedra (where the densities are all 1) and the non-convex Kepler-Poinsot polyhedra.
Via stereographic projection the plane maps to the 2-sphere, such that a connected graph maps to a polygonal decomposition of the sphere, which has Euler characteristic 2. This viewpoint is implicit in Cauchy's proof of Euler's formula given below.
There are many proofs of Euler's formula. One was given by Cauchy in 1811, as follows. It applies to any convex polyhedron, and more generally to any polyhedron whose boundary is topologically equivalent to a sphere and whose faces are topologically equivalent to disks.
Remove one face of the polyhedral surface. By pulling the edges of the missing face away from each other, deform all the rest into a planar graph of points and curves, in such a way that the perimeter of the missing face is placed externally, surrounding the graph obtained, as illustrated by the first of the three graphs for the special case of the cube. (The assumption that the polyhedral surface is homeomorphic to the sphere at the beginning is what makes this possible.) After this deformation, the regular faces are generally not regular anymore. The number of vertices and edges has remained the same, but the number of faces has been reduced by 1. Therefore, proving Euler's formula for the polyhedron reduces to proving V − E + F =1 for this deformed, planar object.
If there is a face with more than three sides, draw a diagonal—that is, a curve through the face connecting two vertices that are not yet connected. This adds one edge and one face and does not change the number of vertices, so it does not change the quantity V − E + F. (The assumption that all faces are disks is needed here, to show via the Jordan curve theorem that this operation increases the number of faces by one.) Continue adding edges in this manner until all of the faces are triangular.
Apply repeatedly either of the following two transformations, maintaining the invariant that the exterior boundary is always a simple cycle:
These transformations eventually reduce the planar graph to a single triangle. (Without the simple-cycle invariant, removing a triangle might disconnect the remaining triangles, invalidating the rest of the argument. A valid removal order is an elementary example of a shelling.)
At this point the lone triangle has V = 3, E = 3, and F = 1, so that V − E + F = 1. Since each of the two above transformation steps preserved this quantity, we have shown V − E + F = 1 for the deformed, planar object thus demonstrating V − E + F = 2 for the polyhedron. This proves the theorem.
For additional proofs, see Twenty Proofs of Euler's Formula by David Eppstein. Multiple proofs, including their flaws and limitations, are used as examples in Proofs and Refutations by Imre Lakatos.
The polyhedral surfaces discussed above are, in modern language, two-dimensional finite CW-complexes. (When only triangular faces are used, they are two-dimensional finite simplicial complexes.) In general, for any finite CW-complex, the Euler characteristic can be defined as the alternating sum
Similarly, for a simplicial complex, the Euler characteristic equals the alternating sum
More generally still, for any topological space, we can define the nth Betti number bn as the rank of the n-th singular homology group. The Euler characteristic can then be defined as the alternating sum
The Euler characteristic behaves well with respect to many basic operations on topological spaces, as follows.
Homology is a topological invariant, and moreover a homotopy invariant: Two topological spaces that are homotopy equivalent have isomorphic homology groups. It follows that the Euler characteristic is also a homotopy invariant.
For another example, any convex polyhedron is homeomorphic to the three-dimensional ball, so its surface is homeomorphic (hence homotopy equivalent) to the two-dimensional sphere, which has Euler characteristic 2. This explains why convex polyhedra have Euler characteristic 2.
If M and N are any two topological spaces, then the Euler characteristic of their disjoint union is the sum of their Euler characteristics, since homology is additive under disjoint union:
More generally, if M and N are subspaces of a larger space X, then so are their union and intersection. In some cases, the Euler characteristic obeys a version of the inclusion–exclusion principle:
More generally, for a ramified covering space, the Euler characteristic of the cover can be computed from the above, with a correction factor for the ramification points, which yields the Riemann–Hurwitz formula.
The product property holds much more generally, for fibrations with certain conditions.
This includes product spaces and covering spaces as special cases, and can be proven by the Serre spectral sequence on homology of a fibration.
The Euler characteristic can be calculated easily for general surfaces by finding a polygonization of the surface (that is, a description as a CW-complex) and using the above definitions.
It is common to construct soccer balls by stitching together pentagonal and hexagonal pieces, with three pieces meeting at each vertex (see for example the Adidas Telstar). If P pentagons and H hexagons are used, then there are F = P + H faces, V = (5 P + 6 H) / 3 vertices, and E = (5 P + 6 H) / 2 edges. The Euler characteristic is thus
Because the sphere has Euler characteristic 2, it follows that P = 12. That is, a soccer ball constructed in this way always has 12 pentagons. In principle, the number of hexagons is unconstrained. This result is applicable to fullerenes and Goldberg polyhedra.
hence has Betti number 1 in dimensions 0 and n, and all other Betti numbers are 0. Its Euler characteristic is then 1 + (−1)n — that is, either 0 or 2.
The n-dimensional real projective space is the quotient of the n-sphere by the antipodal map. It follows that its Euler characteristic is exactly half that of the corresponding sphere — either 0 or 1.
The n-dimensional torus is the product space of n circles. Its Euler characteristic is 0, by the product property. More generally, any compact parallelizable manifold, including any compact Lie group, has Euler characteristic 0.
The Euler characteristic of any closed odd-dimensional manifold is also 0. The case for orientable examples is a corollary of Poincaré duality. This property applies more generally to any compact stratified space all of whose strata have odd dimension. It also applies to closed odd-dimensional non-orientable manifolds, via the two-to-one orientable double cover.
The Euler characteristic of a closed orientable surface can be calculated from its genus g (the number of tori in a connected sum decomposition of the surface; intuitively, the number of "handles") as
The Euler characteristic of a closed non-orientable surface can be calculated from its non-orientable genus k (the number of real projective planes in a connected sum decomposition of the surface) as
For closed smooth manifolds, the Euler characteristic coincides with the Euler number, i.e., the Euler class of its tangent bundle evaluated on the fundamental class of a manifold. The Euler class, in turn, relates to all other characteristic classes of vector bundles.
For closed Riemannian manifolds, the Euler characteristic can also be found by integrating the curvature; see the Gauss–Bonnet theorem for the two-dimensional case and the generalized Gauss–Bonnet theorem for the general case.
A discrete analog of the Gauss–Bonnet theorem is Descartes' theorem that the "total defect" of a polyhedron, measured in full circles, is the Euler characteristic of the polyhedron; see defect (geometry).
Hadwiger's theorem characterizes the Euler characteristic as the unique (up to scalar multiplication) translation-invariant, finitely additive, not-necessarily-nonnegative set function defined on finite unions of compact convex sets in Rn that is "homogeneous of degree 0".
For every combinatorial cell complex, one defines the Euler characteristic as the number of 0-cells, minus the number of 1-cells, plus the number of 2-cells, etc., if this alternating sum is finite. In particular, the Euler characteristic of a finite set is simply its cardinality, and the Euler characteristic of a graph is the number of vertices minus the number of edges.
More generally, one can define the Euler characteristic of any chain complex to be the alternating sum of the ranks of the homology groups of the chain complex, assuming that all these ranks are finite.
Another generalization of the concept of Euler characteristic on manifolds comes from orbifolds (see Euler characteristic of an orbifold). While every manifold has an integer Euler characteristic, an orbifold can have a fractional Euler characteristic. For example, the teardrop orbifold has Euler characteristic 1 + 1/p, where p is a prime number corresponding to the cone angle 2π / p.
The concept of Euler characteristic of the reduced homology of a bounded finite poset is another generalization, important in combinatorics. A poset is "bounded" if it has smallest and largest elements; call them 0 and 1. The Euler characteristic of such a poset is defined as the integer μ(0,1), where μ is the Möbius function in that poset's incidence algebra.
This can be further generalized by defining a Q-valued Euler characteristic for certain finite categories, a notion compatible with the Euler characteristics of graphs, orbifolds and posets mentioned above. In this setting, the Euler characteristic of a finite group or monoid G is 1/|G|, and the Euler characteristic of a finite groupoid is the sum of 1/|Gi|, where we picked one representative group Gi for each connected component of the groupoid.