Symbolic dynamics for the modular surface and beyond

Svetlana Katok, Ilie Ugarcovici

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


In this expository article we describe the two main methods of representing geodesies on surfaces of constant negative curvature by symbolic sequences and their development. A geometric method stems from a 1898 work of J. Hadamard and was developed by M. Morse in the 1920s. It consists of recording the successive sides of a given fundamental region cut by the geodesic and may be applied to all finitely generated Fuchsian groups. Another method, of arithmetic nature, uses continued fraction expansions of the end points of the geodesic at infinity and is even older-it comes from the Gauss reduction theory. Introduced to dynamics by E. Art in in a 1924 paper, this method was used to exhibit dense geodesics on the modular surface. For 80 years these classical works have provided inspiration for mathematicians and a testing ground for new methods in dynamics, geometry and combinatorial group theory. We present some of the ideas, results (old and recent), and interpretations that illustrate the multiple facets of the subject.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-132
Number of pages46
JournalBulletin of the American Mathematical Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Mathematics(all)
  • Applied Mathematics


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