Nowhere dense set

In mathematics, a nowhere dense set in a topological space is a set whose closure has empty interior. In a very loose sense, it is a set whose elements are not tightly clustered (as defined by the topology on the space) anywhere. The order of operations is important. For example, the set of rational numbers, as a subset of R, has the property that the interior has an empty closure, but it is not nowhere dense; in fact it is dense in R. Equivalently, a nowhere dense set is a set that is not dense in any nonempty open set.

The surrounding space matters: a set A may be nowhere dense when considered as a subspace of a topological space X but not when considered as a subspace of another topological space Y. A nowhere dense set is always dense in itself.

Every subset of a nowhere dense set is nowhere dense, and the union of finitely many nowhere dense sets is nowhere dense. That is, the nowhere dense sets form an ideal of sets, a suitable notion of negligible set. The union of countably many nowhere dense sets, however, need not be nowhere dense. (Thus, the nowhere dense sets need not form a sigma-ideal.) Instead, such a union is called a meagre set or a set of first category. The concept is important to formulate the Baire category theorem.


Open and closed

Nowhere dense sets with positive measure

A nowhere dense set is not necessarily negligible in every sense. For example, if X is the unit interval [0,1], not only is it possible to have a dense set of Lebesgue measure zero (such as the set of rationals), but it is also possible to have a nowhere dense set with positive measure.

For one example (a variant of the Cantor set), remove from [0,1] all dyadic fractions, i.e. fractions of the form a/2n in lowest terms for positive integers a and n, and the intervals around them: (a/2n  1/22n+1, a/2n + 1/22n+1). Since for each n this removes intervals adding up to at most 1/2n+1, the nowhere dense set remaining after all such intervals have been removed has measure of at least 1/2 (in fact just over 0.535... because of overlaps) and so in a sense represents the majority of the ambient space [0,1]. This set is nowhere dense, as it is closed and has an empty interior: any interval (a, b) is not contained in the set since the dyadic fractions in (a, b) have been removed.

Generalizing this method, one can construct in the unit interval nowhere dense sets of any measure less than 1, although the measure cannot be exactly one (else its complement would be a nonempty open set with measure zero, which is impossible).

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