Commuting Hamiltonian Flows of Curves

Albert Chern, Felix Knöppel, Franz Pedit, Ulrich Pinkall


Starting from the vortex filament flow introduced in 1906 by Da Rios, there is a hierarchy of commuting geometric flows on space curves. The traditional approach relates those flows to the nonlinear Schrödinger hierarchy satisfied by the complex curvature function of the space curve. Rather than working with this infinitesimal invariant, we describe the flows directly as vector fields on the manifold of space curves. This manifold carries a canonical symplectic form introduced by Marsden and Weinstein. Our flows are precisely the symplectic gradients of a natural hierarchy of invariants, beginning with length, total torsion, and elastic energy. There are a number of advantages to our geometric approach. For instance, the real part of the spectral curve is geometrically realized as the motion of the monodromy axis when varying total torsion. This insight provides a new explicit formula for the hierarchy of Hamiltonians. We also interpret the complex spectral curve in terms of curves in hyperbolic space and Darboux transforms. Furthermore, we complete the hierarchy of Hamiltonians by adding area and volume. These allow for the characterization of elastic curves as solutions to an isoperimetric problem: elastica are the critical points of length while fixing area and volume.


  • Albert Chern, Felix Knöppel, Franz Pedit, and Ulrich Pinkall.
    Commuting Hamiltonian flows of curves in real space forms.
    Preprint, September 2018.
    arXiv:1809.01394, dgd:493.

Dr. Albert Chern   +

Projects: A05, C07
University: TU Berlin
E-Mail: chern[at]

Dr. Felix Knöppel   +

Projects: C07
University: TU Berlin
E-Mail: knoeppel[at]

Prof. Phd. Franz Pedit   +

Prof. Dr. Ulrich Pinkall   +

Projects: A05, C07
University: TU Berlin
E-Mail: pinkall[at]