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BY SHREERAM Ss ABHYANKAR, PURDUE UNIVERSITY

Il. Introduction. Algebraic geometry has been approached

from various perspectives:

,algebraicTeometry ,

function theory geometry algebra

A ' Algeby ' Function Theory Topology Arithemetic

The relevant algebra can be divided into 3 categories:

<1:1'1riehersity algebra high-school algebra

We associate different catchwords with these divisions: function

theory -- function, integral; geometry -- curve, surface, variety;

high-school algebra -- polynomial, power series; college algebra --

ring, field, ideal; university algebra -- functor.

We give a chronological tabulation of some of the distinguished

proponents of the various divisions, together with one approximate

date of work for each. To each division we assign a father with

capitalized name; to college algebra we also assign a mother, which

makes the father of geometry a grandfather:

function theory: Euler (1748), Abel (1826), Jacobi (

RIEMANN (1857), Picard (1897), Poincar6 (1910), Lefschetz

Zariski (1929), Hodge (1941), Kodaira (1954), Hirzebruch

Griffiths (1972).

geometry: Cremona (1850), M. NOETHER (1870), Bertini

C. Segre (1894), Castelnuovo (1894), Enriques (1894), Zar i

832)s

(1921),

1956),

(18821,

ski (1934).

high-school algebra: Bhaskara (1114), Cardano (1530), Ferrari

(1540), NEWTON (1680), Tschirnhausen (1683), Euler (1748), Sylvester

(1840), Cayley (1870), Kronecker (1882), Mertens (1886), Mnig

(1903), Perron (1905), Hurwitz (1913), Macaulay (1916), Zariski

(1941), Hironaka (1964).

college algebra: DEDEKIND (1882), E. NOETHER (1925), Krull

(1930), Zariski (1941), Chevalley (1943), Cohen (1946), Nagata

(1960).

university algebra: Serre. (1955), Cartan (1956), Eilenberg

(1956), GROTHENDIECK (1960), Mumford (1965), and too many others.

Fundamental thesis of this talk (obviously a partisan claim):

568 S.S. Abhyankar HM2

The method of high-school algebra is powerful,beautiful, and

accessible. During the last fifty years, the other two kinds of

algebra have been making exaggerated claims. First, college

algebra has been bleating groups-rings-fields until they are

coming out of your ears. Then university algebra started infecting

young minds with functorial arrows. Let us not lose sight of the

power of the explicit algorithmic processes given to us by Newton,

Tschirnhausen, Kronecker, and Sylvester.

Later on I shall relate four personal experiences to sub-

stantiate the above thesis.

52. Brahmins. It might be said that (high-school) algebra

started with the Brahmins (my ancestors) of India: Aryabhatta

(476)) Brahmagupta (598)) Bhaskara (1114). Quadratic equations

were solved by completing the square, and rules were given for

solving certain types of so-called Diophantine equations.

Bhaskaracharya (acharya = professor) was the director of an

observatory at Uj jain. His treatise on astronomy (Siddhantash-

iromani) contains chapters on geometry (Lilavati -- named after

his daughter) and algebra (Beejaganit) .

Now it is true that the history of mathematics should primarily

consist of an account of the achievements of great men; but it

may be of some interest to also see their impact on an average

student like me. With this in mind I may be allowed some personal

reminiscences.

It is my fond memory that my father initiated me to math-

ematics -- and at the same time to Sanskrit poetry -- by teaching

me portions of Bhaskaras treatise. After several years, during

my last year in high-school, at my fathers suggestion I studied

Hobsons Trigonometry (1891), Hardys Pure Mathematics (1908),

and Chrystals Algebra (1886). By the end of first-year college

I had also studied Knopps Infinite Series (1928), Burnside-

Pantons Theory of Equations (1904), and B&hers Higher Algebra

(1907). These books have served me well; they are all (except,

perhaps, Hardys) predominantly high-school-algebraic and algor-

ithmic. After them my ways were set; after them I could not

(and didnt need to?) acquire much new technique. The goodly

dose of analysis obtained during my last three years of college

was all but forgotten.

As a graduate student at Harvard, I acquired some mathematical

sophistication. As a result, I always think high-school algebra

but write college algebra. At any rate, Zariskis algebraic

geometry gave ample scope to my early algorithmic training.

However, what initially attracted me to Zariski was Math 103

Projective Geometry -- von Staudts algebra of throws and the

resulting identity of geometry with algebra was indeed very

exciting.

Looking at what these days, in the hands of the superbourbaki-

university-algebraists, goes under the name of algebraic geometry,

I shudder! So perhaps I feel more of an algorithmic bond with

HM2 High-School Algebra in Algebraic Geometry 569

the computer scientist than with the fashionable algebraic

geometer of today. I imagine that my empathy with the computer

scientist is also due to the training in lattice theory which

I received from Birkhoff in my first year at Harvard.

I continue with my story of Newtons contributions to high-

school algebra:

83. Newton (1680). Truly the father of us all. Newton

discovered the binomial theorem, first for positive integral

exponent and then soon after for any fractional exponent, which

can be regarded as the solution for Y of the equation Y - u(x) = 0

where U(X) is a power series. Having solved this simpler equation,

he proceeded to solve the most general equation of that type:

Newton's Theorem (on Puiseux expansion). Every polynomial

f(X,Y) = Y" i- ulix)P-l -I-..

.+ un(X)

with power series ui (x) , whose degree n is not divisible by the

characteristic, (Newton naturally assumed characteristic zero,

but his algorithm applies more generally.) can be completely

factored if we allow series with fractional exponents. More

precisely, we have

f(T"!,Y) = ; (Y

i=l

- yi ITI 1

with power series yi (T) .

Not only did Newton prove the existence of the y., but he

1

actually gave an algorithm for explicitly finding them by successive

polynomial approximations. This algorithm is known as the Newton

polygon method. (For an exposition, see the 1973 paper of

Abhyankar and Moh in Crelle 260, 47-83; 261,29-54.)

54. Tschirnhausen (1683). This contemporary of Newton tried

to solve fifth degree equations. In that he failed, but his

success was more important than his failure. He developed many

useful transformations of equations.

If you pick up almost any book on algebra written before (but

none after) 1931, you will find numerous pages devoted to

Tschirnhausen transformations. Some meritorious books on algebra,

in addition to those already cited in 52, are Weber (1894), Kbnig

(1903)) Macaulay (1916), and Perron (1927). Yes, Perron is the

last one because in 1931 came van der Waerdens separation of

college algebra from high-school algebra. Still, being on the

boundary, van der Waerdens first edition included some elimination

theory (which however he eliminated from later editions).

As a simple sample of Tschirnhausenls transformations we have

the trick of killing the coefficient of u in G(Y) = y" + blYn-l

+ . ..+ bn by the substitution z = Y + bl/n. For n = 2 this is

570 S.S. Abhyankar HM2

simply the ancient method of solving a quadratic equation by

completing the square. Of course we can divide by n only if n

is not divisible by the characteristic!

This killing of bl was the basic trick underlying Zariskis

(Annals of Math 40 (1939)) 639-689; 41 (1940), 852-896; 45 (1944),

472-542) and Hironakas (Annals of Math 79 (1964), 109-326) proofs

of resolution of singularities of algebraic varieties of zero

characteristic. For an anlysis of this matter see my lecture

at the 1966 Moscow International Congress of Mathematicians

(Proceedings, pp. 469-481), where I went on to say that instead

of killing bl, Zariski used differentiation arguments; but then

after all the binomial theorem and differentiation are in essence

one and the same thing.

In turn, the unavailability of the above Tschirnhausen

transformation for non-zero characteristic is what makes the

resolution problem quite different there. To put it differently,

we have to grasp the divisibility properties of the binomial

coefficients and in other ways to understand the binomial theorem

better! In the Moscow lecture I also pointed out that as far

as the resolution problem in non-zero characteristic is concerned

much critical information is lost by replacing a power series

by the totality of all its multiples, i.e., by the principle

ideal generated by it! This is an instance of the superiority

of high-school algebra over college algebra and geometry, and

so brings us to:

55. Personal Experience 1. In my Harvard dissertation

(Annals of Math 63 (1956), 491-526)) I proved the resolution

of singularities of algebraic surfaces in non-zero characteristic.

There I used a mixture of high-school algebra and college algebra.

After ten years, I understood the binomial theorem a little better

and thereby learnt how to replace some of the college algebra by

high-school algebra, which enabled me to prove resolution for

arithemetical surfaces (Purdue Conference on Arithmetical Algebraic

Geometry, Harper and Row, 1965, pp. 111-152). Then replacing

some more college algebra by high-school algebra enabled me to

prove resolution for three-dimensional algebraic varieties in

non-zero characteristic (Resolution of Singularities of Embedded

Algebraic Surfaces, Acad. Press, 1966). But still some college

algebra has remained.

I am convinced that if one can decipher the mysteries of the

binomial theorem and learn how to replace the remaining college

algebra by high-school algebra, then one could solve the general

resolution problem. Indeed, I could almost see a ray of light

at the end of the tunnel in 1966. But this process of unlearning

college algebra left me a bit exhausted. Added to the oppressive

hegemony of the superbourbakicohorts,it made me quit!

96. Elimination Theory. Elimination theory encompasses the

explicit algorithmic procedures of solving several simultaneous

polynomial equations in several variables. Here some of the

HM2 High-School Algebra in Algebraic Geometry 571

prominent names are: Sylvester (1840)) Kronecker (1882)) Mertens

(1886), KUnig (1903), Hurwitz (1913), and Macaulay (1916). It

is a vast theory. There used to be a belief, substantially

justified, that elimination theory is capable of handling most

problems of algebraic geometry in a rigorous and constructive

manner. This is of course not surprising -- after all, what is

algebraic geometry except another name for systems of polynomial

equations!

What is surprising is that under Bourbakis influence it

somehow became fashionable to bring elimination theory into

disrepute. To quote from page 31 of Weils Foundations of

Algebraic Geometry (1946): The device that follows, which,

it may be hoped, finally eliminates from algebraic geometry the

last traces of elimination theory, is borrowed from C. Chevalleys

Princeton lectures. Note again van der Waerdens elimination

of elimination theory from later editions of his Algebra.

It seems to me, what Bourbaki achieved thereby was trading

in constructive proofs for mere existence proofs.

17. Personal Experience 2. How many equations are needed

to define a curve C in affine 3-space? The history of this

question goes back to Kronecker and is described in my Montreal

lectures (Algebraic Space Curves, Montreal Univ. Press, 1970).

In these lectures I tried to revive elimination theory for

studying this question. Among other things, for any non-singular

C, I explicitly constructed three equations. Using these three

explicit equations, Murthy and Towber (Inventiones 24 (1974))

173-189) have just now proved that (1) if c is rational or

elliptic then two equations suffice, and that (2) every projective

module over the polynomial ring in three variables is free (Serres

conjecture) . The funny thing is that Murthy (Commentarii

Mathematici Helvetici 47 (1972), 179-184) had also independently

proved the existence of three equations, but because he was

using university algebra (the functor Ext and such) his proof

was only existential, and that was not enough for proving either

(1) or (21.

So high-school algebra has come to the rescue of university

algebra!

58. Personal Experience 3. In a recent paper (cited in 83))

Moh and I have made analysis of: (1) the Newton-Puiseux expansion,

(2) Tschirnhausen transformations, (3) resultants and discriminants,

and (4) expansion of a polynomial in terms of another polynomial

(analogous to decimal expansion). All these four items can be

found in Chrystal and Burnside-Panton, but not in any post 1931

algebra text. As an immediate corollary of this analysis we

have proved (forthcoming in Crelle 276 (1975)) the following

theorem which can be stated in three versions:

High-school algebra version. Let u(T) and v(T) be two

polynomials in one variable T such that T can be expressed as

a polynomial in u(T) and v(T). Let degree of u(T) = n > n =

572 S.S. Abhyankar HM2

degree of v(T) . Then n' divides n unless both n and n' are

multiples of the characteristic.

College algebra version. Any two epimorphisms (whose degrees

are non-divisible by the characteristic) of the polynomial ring

in two variables onto the polynomial ring in one variable differ

from each other by an automorphism of the polynomial ring in two

variables. This continues to hold if the polynomial rings are

replaced by the corresponding free associative (non-commutative)

algebras.

Geometric version. Any two algebraic embeddings of the affine

line into the affine plane differ from each other by a biregular

map of the affine plane, (in zero characteristic).

Most of modern-post 1800-mathematics seemed powerless to

prove this kind of thing. But the 17th century stuff of Newton

and Tschirnhausen enabled us to prove certain existence theorems,

for instance the existence of the said automorphism or of the

said biregular map. Perhaps the matter is put in a better per-

spective by saying that what we obtain is a theorem about exist-

ence (or better, construction) of curves with prescribed singularities

59. Personal Experience 4. I have found certain general-

izations of the Newton Polygon method most helpful in obtaining

partial results concerning the following problem which is still

unproved even for two variables!

High-School Implicit Function Theorem. Let Yl,YZ,...,Yn be

polynomials in Xl,X2,...,X

n

(with coefficients in a field of zero

characteristics) such that

ay.

det 1

I 1

= a non-zero constant,

Show that then xl,XZ,...,xn are polynomials in YI,YZ,...,Y .

n

I find it significant that Hironaka (J. of Math. of Kyoto

univ. 7 (19610, 251-293) also found a generalization of the

Newton polygon to Newton polyhedra I helpful in understanding

the singularities of higher-dimensional algebraic varieties.

I hope that this foreshadows a new trend back to high-school

algebra. Certainly, the extreme abstractions of the university

algebra of the past 20 years seem to be less fruitful than

explicit algorithms for solving difficult problems in algebraic

geometry.

(A much longer version of this paper entitled Historical

Ramblings in Algebraic Geometry and Related Algebra will appear

in Vol. 83 (1976) of the American Mathematical Monthly.)

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