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I am looking for an analogue for the following 2 dimensional fact:

Given 3 angles $\alpha,\beta,\gamma\in (0;\pi)$ there is always a triangle with these prescribed angles. It is spherical/euclidean/hyperbolic, iff the angle sum is smaller than /equal to/bigger than $\pi$. And the length of the sides (resp. their ratio in the Euclidean case) can be computed with the sine and cosine law.

The analogous problem in 3 dimensions would be:

Assign to each edge of a tetrahedron a number in $(0;\pi)$. Does there exists a tetrahedron with these numbers as face angles at those edges. And when is it spherical/euclidean/hyperbolic. Is there a similar Invariant to the angle sum? And are there formulas to compute the length of the edges?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 12 down vote accepted

The short answer is no - there is no single inequality criterion. Already in $\mathbb{R}^3$ everything is much more complicated. Let me give a sample of inequalities the angles should satisfy. Denote by $\gamma_{ij}, 1\leq i < j \leq 4$ the six dihedral angles of a Euclidean tetrahedron. Then: $$ \gamma_{12}+\gamma_{23} + \gamma_{34}+\gamma_{14} \le 2 \pi $$ $$ 2\pi \le \gamma_{12} + \gamma_{13} + \gamma_{14}+\gamma_{23} + \gamma_{24}+\gamma_{34} \le 3\pi $$ $$ 0 \le \cos \gamma_{12} + \cos\gamma_{13} + \cos\gamma_{14}+ \cos\gamma_{23} + \cos\gamma_{24}+ \cos\gamma_{34} \le 2 $$ (See my book ex. 42.27 for the proofs of these inequalities - they are not terribly difficult, so you might enjoy proving them yourself).

This shows that the set of allowed sixtuples of angles is rather complicated (for spherical/hyperbolic tetrahedra with angles close to $\gamma_{ij}$, these angles will have to satisfy these inequalities as well). The "invariant" you mention corresponds to the unique equation the angles satisfy in the Euclidean space. The latter is also rather delicate: it is the Gauss-Bonnet equation $\omega_1+...+\omega_4=4\pi$, where $\omega_i$ is the curvature of $i$-th vertex - you need to use spherical cosine theorem to compute it from dihedral angles (see e.g. Prop. 41.3 in my book).

Finally, you might like to take a look at this interesting paper by Rivin, to see that a similar generalization of the triangle inequality is just as difficult. To answer your last question (edge lengths from dihedral angles), yes, this is known. I am not an expert on this, but I would start with this recent paper.

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Your third inequality contains a misprint I guess. –  Petya Feb 25 '10 at 17:09
Right. Fixed now. –  Igor Pak Feb 25 '10 at 17:54

There is an article by K. Wirth and A. Dreiding which you might find helpful:

Edge lengths determining tetrahedrons

Elmente der Mathematik, volume 64, (2009) 160-170.

The the title talks about edge lengths, but the approach taken involves taking a triangle drawn in the plane and placing three triangles along its edges to form a "net" with which to try to fold the result into a tetrahedron. The paper discuss circumstances under which this can be done.

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There has been work on Gram matrices that appears relevant, see e.g. Theorems 14-5 on p. 24-5.

Also of peripheral interest: there is a hyperbolic generalization of the Dehn invariant. But as far as I can tell this sort of thing can't really be a generalization of any 2D construction.

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