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Proceedings of the International Summer School and Workshop on Schubert Calculus.


In this expository paper we describe a powerful combinatorial formula and its implications in geometry, topology, and algebra. This formula first appeared in the appendix of a book by Andersen, Jantzen, and Soergel. Sara Billey discovered it independently five years later, and it played a prominent role in her work to evaluate certain polynomials closely related to Schubert polynomials. Billey's formula relates many pieces of Schubert calculus: the geometry of Schubert varieties, the action of the torus on the flag variety, combinatorial data about permutations, the cohomology of the flag variety and of the Schubert varieties, and the combinatorics of root systems (generalizing inversions of a permutation). Combinatorially, Billey's formula describes an invariant of pairs of elements of a Weyl group. On its face, this formula is a combination of roots built from subwords of a fixed word. As we will see, it has deeper geometric and topological meaning as well: (1) It tells us about the tangent spaces at each permutation flag in each Schubert variety. (2) It tells us about singular points in Schubert varieties. (3) It tells us about the values of Kostant polynomials. Billey's formula also reflects an aspect of GKM theory, which is a way of describing the torus-equivariant cohomology of a variety just from information about the torus-fixed points in the variety. This paper will also describe some applications of Billey's formula, including concrete combinatorial descriptions of Billey's formula in special cases, and ways to bootstrap Billey's formula to describe the equivariant cohomology of subvarieties of the flag variety to which GKM theory does not apply.