Gracious Living


Subgroups of Free Groups are Free
December 28, 2010, 07:32
Filed under: Algebra, Math | Tags: , , , , ,

Okay, first post for a while.  As I promised quite a while back, let’s prove together that subgroups of free groups are free.  It’s surprising that this is nontrivial to prove: just try to come up with some subgroups of F_2 and you’ll see what I mean.  In fact, using only basic algebraic topology and a bit of graph theory, we can come up with a really simple argument that replaces this one.  Perhaps that’s an argument in favor of algebraic topology.  But I think this angle is sort of interesting, and it should be a fresh experience for me, at least.

The proof is due to Jean-Pierre “Duh Bear” Serre in his book Trees.  A heads up if you track this down — Serre has a really weird way of defining graphs.  Fortunately, for this proof at least, a little bit of work translates things into the same language of graphs and digraphs that we saw when talking about Cayley graphs.  I review that below the fold.  It takes a while to set up the machinery, though the proof itself isn’t too long.  To recompense, I’ve left out a couple minor details, which you’re probably able to fill in.  If some step doesn’t make sense, work it out — or try to disprove it!

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Group Actions
November 16, 2010, 15:00
Filed under: Algebra, Math | Tags: , , , , ,

Today we’re going to take the abstract group machinery we’ve been building up, and unleash it on some sets. When mathematicians say that “groups describe symmetry,” this is exactly what they’re talking about. Say we have a set, and some “symmetries” of that set. Pretty much any definition of “symmetry” will take it to be a bijection on the set, and we moreover expect to be able to undo symmetries, to compose them (associatively), and to use the identity map as a symmetry. These heuristics are just informal versions of the group axioms! The element we’ve been leaving out so far, though, is the set itself on which the symmetries are founded. We say that this symmetry group acts on this set. Below, let’s make this formal.

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