We describe a number of characterisations of virtual surface groups which are based on the following result. Let $ G $ be a group and $ k $ be a field. We show that if $ G $ is $ FP_2 $ over $ k $ and if $ H^2(G;k) $, thought of as a $ k $-vector space, contains a 1-dimensional $ G $-invariant subspace, then $ G $ is a virtual surface group (i.e. contains a subgroup of finite index which is the fundamental group of a closed surface other than the sphere or projective plane). In particular, this applies to rational Poincare duality groups. We also conclude that a finitely presented group which is semistable at infinity and with infinite cyclic fundamental group at infinity is a virtual surface group. We recover the result of Mess which characterises such groups as groups which are quasiisometric to complete reimannian planes. We also give a cohomological version of the Seifert conjecture, from which the topological Seifert conjecture (due to Tukia, Mess, Gabai, Casson and Jungreis) can be recovered via work of Zieschang and Scott.
2000 Subject Classification: 20F65, 57M05, 20J06.
Preprint, Southampton 1999.
J. reine angew. Math. 576 (2004) 11-62.