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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