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Robert Bryant : The affine Bonnet problem

The classical Euclidean problem studied by Bonnet in the 19th century was to determine whether, and in how many ways, a Riemannian surface can be isometrically embedded into Euclidean 3-space so that its mean curvature is a prescribed function. He found that, generically, specifying a metric and mean curvature admitted no solution but that there are special cases in which, not only are there solutions, but there are even 1-parameter families of distinct (i.e., mutually noncongruent) solutions. Much later, these ‘Bonnet surfaces’ were found to be intimately connected with integrable systems and Lax pairs. In this talk, I will consider the analogous problem in affine geometry: To determine whether, and in how many ways, a surface endowed with a Riemannian metric g and a function H can be immersed into affine 3-space in such a way that the induced Blaschke metric is g and the induced affine mean curvature is H. This affine problem is, in many ways, richer and more interesting than the corresponding Euclidean problem. I will classify the pairs (g,H) that display the greatest flexibility in their solution space and explain what is known about the (suspected) links with integrable systems and Lax pairs.

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