Next semester I will be teaching an introductory algebraic geometry class for a smallish group of undergrads. In the last couple weeks, I hope that each student will give a one-hour presentation. The usual approach here might be to suggest some nice classical stories (e.g. stuff in this thread) and have each student pick one.

I'm hoping to convince the class that algebraic geometry, even as it is currently practised, is not such a frightening field as they have been led to believe -- that there is still some low-hanging, elementary fruit. To that end, I'd like to mix in some more recent results, say papers appearing in the last year or two. I'm looking for possible topics.

Question: Can anyone suggest recent papers s.t. (1) the statements are appealing to novices (2) the statements can be understood by an undergrad familiar with the material in Shafarevich's book (no schemes, no derived categories, no toric varieties, no moduli spaces... you get the idea) (3) the outline of the proofs could conceivably be understood and presented by said undergrads.

These do not necessarily need to be ground-breaking papers in big deal journals. Minor results are fine, as long as they plausibly sound interesting to non-experts. A quick skim suggests the median number of suitable papers per day on math.AG is 0.

Any suggestions? Self-promotion is welcomed.

  • $\begingroup$ Things about Cremona transformations... $\endgroup$ – user40276 Nov 3 '14 at 20:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Probably a bit beyond what you ask for, but I was thinking of June Huh's paper on Milnor numbers and chromatic polynomials of graphs, www-personal.umich.edu/~junehuh/MilnorChromatic.pdf $\endgroup$ – ACL Nov 3 '14 at 20:57
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Everything related to the "polynomial method", for example Guth/Katz's paper : de.arxiv.org/pdf/0812.1043.pdf $\endgroup$ – ACL Nov 3 '14 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ journals.cambridge.org/action/… $\endgroup$ – Steve Huntsman Nov 4 '14 at 7:03
  • $\begingroup$ An attractive and effective way to start learning algebraic geometry is elimination theory. There is a plentiful literature , old and new. $\endgroup$ – Al-Amrani Nov 4 '14 at 16:53

This paper showed two century-old classification results, each of very undergrad-comprehensible things, were the same; pretty amazing!


"Sums of squares and varieties of minimal degree" by Grigoriy Blekherman, Greg Smith, and Mauricio Velasco

Let X be a real nondegenerate projective subvariety such that its set of real points is Zariski dense. We prove that every real quadratic form that is nonnegative on X is a sum of squares of linear forms if and only if X is a variety of minimal degree.


If you like characteristic p, Pardini's characterization of smooth plane curves all of whose points are inflections (Compositio 60 (1986) 3-17) is very nice and uses only Bezout's theorem, basically. Bonus #1: it was a tesi di laurea (Italian equivalent of a senior thesis). Bonus #2: author is on MO https://mathoverflow.net/users/10610/rita


You don't get more algebraic geometry than understanding the equations defining a (affine or projective) variety, and there are still tons of questions being actively studied. For example:

1) Google "set-theoretic complete intersections". While you are at it, also search for "monomial curves".

2) "Secant varieties". These even have connections to statistic, etc, search for "tensor decomposition" and all that. Even dimensions of these objects are non-trivial problem, as far as I understand.

3) Commutative algebra usually has quite a few accessible papers, and many problems there have strong links to algebraic geometry. So visit math.AC. Good luck!

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The tensor decomposition thingie has very practical connections to algorithms, too, through the Strassen algorithm. $\endgroup$ – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Nov 3 '14 at 22:21
  • $\begingroup$ @MarianoSuárez-Alvarez and also through its use in signal processing ! $\endgroup$ – aginensky Nov 4 '14 at 0:58
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "Very practical" here means "interesting to a theoretical computer scientist" but not really "anyone would want to run this algorithm on a real computer any time soon." $\endgroup$ – Sasho Nikolov Nov 4 '14 at 6:47

I know you said no moduli spaces, but this paper would be great for a reading project. The moduli spaces in question is not complicated to construct, and the proofs are accessible with guidance.




Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.