Mathematics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people studying math at any level and professionals in related fields. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I'm looking for a basic motivation for this topic. Meaning, why would one want to study the function field of a curve. The reason I usually give to this question is that one understands a space by understanding the functions that can be defined on it. Also, this object categorically classifies curves up to birational equivalence.

However, to motivate a younger student who doesn't know anything about birational geometry nor indeed has yet developed the intuition about understanding geometry through functions, these reasons can seem arbitrary. Does anyone know of a way or analogy to see why one would come to study function fields? In particular, of curves?

share|cite|improve this question
This seems backwards. If your students don't understand how to see geometry through functions, this is a perfect opportunity to teach them! It is easy to explain through examples how a morphism of function fields gives rise to a morphism of projective curves in the opposite direction (or a birational map of affine curves) and you can talk about this as a geometric way to think about Galois theory. – Qiaochu Yuan Feb 28 '11 at 18:47
That is basically what I plan to do if I don't find another motivation, though they haven't had any Galois theory yet. I was just wondering if there was something more tangible for them. – lemiller Feb 28 '11 at 19:17
Why not strictly starting from algebra? In field theory one studies field extensions $F/K$ because every field is an extension of its prime field. Field extensions can be algebraic or transcendental. In the first case a detailled theory exists. In the second case the simplest class consists of finitely generated extensions of transcendence degree one. To describe their structure one necessarily has to look at a set of generators and the relations among them. These relations yield a curve over the base field. – Hagen Knaf Mar 1 '11 at 11:24

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.