PhD Advisor: Kasra Rafi
The mapping class group is the group orientation preserving homeomorphisms of a surface up to isotopy. The mapping class group encodes information about the symmetries of a surface. We focus on studying the pseudo-Anosov mapping classes, which are the elements of the group that mix the underlying surface in a complex way. These maps have applications in physics, notably in fluid dynamics, since we can stir a disk of fluid to create topological chaos, and in the study of magnetic fields since pseudo-Anosov maps create odd magnetic fields. Pseudo-Anosov maps also appear in industrial applications such as food engineering and polymer processing.
We introduce a construction of pseudo-Anosov homeomorphisms on $n$-times punctured spheres and surfaces with higher genus using only sufficiently many positive half-twists. These constructions can produce explicit examples of pseudo-Anosov maps with various number-theoretic properties associated to the stretch factors, including examples where the trace field is not totally real and the Galois conjugates of the stretch factor are on the unit circle.
We construct explicit examples of geodesics in the mapping class group and show that the shadow of a geodesic in mapping class group to the curve graph does not have to be a quasi-geodesic. We also show that the quasi-axis of a pseudo-Anosov element of the mapping class group may not have the strong contractibility property. Specifically, we show that, after choosing a generating set carefully, one can find a pseudo-Anosov homeomorphism $f$, a sequence of points $w_k$ and a sequence of radii $r_k$ so that the ball $B(w_k, r_k)$ is disjoint from a quasi-axis $a$ of $f$, but for any projection map from the mapping class group to $a$, the diameter of the image of $B(w_k, r_k)$ grows like $\log(r_k)$.