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Math S-101

Presentation Topics Ideas

Summer 2016

Group theory, like Elvis, is everywhere. Part of the idea of the presentations is to give you an idea
of the breadth of applications of group theory. (We also hope that youll enjoy both the chance
to dive deeper into a single topic and the opportunity to share what you learn with your fellow
students.) This handout is meant both to give you a feel for how group theory appears throughout
math (and outside of math as well!). Its also meant as an introduction to topics for presentations.
Ill try to give a brief introduction to each topic, so you can gauge your own interest.
Note: Generally the links provided below will be to Wikipedia articles. You can find much more
by Googling and the library will have some wonderful texts. I can help you find resources if you
have any trouble.

Applications of group theory in math

Plane Symmetries and the Dihedral Groups

You should have a good idea what the dihedral groups are from our discussions in class. One
approach to delve deeper is to think of these groups as the symmetry group of an object in the
plane. For example, the regular pentagon (with 5 sides) has a symmetry group of order 10, given
by five rotations (including the identity) and five reflections (shown here each with the appropriate
line of reflection):

More generally, the dihedral group of order 2n is the symmetry of the regular n-sided polygon (also
called a regular n-gon). This is often called Dn in geometry (to emphasize the n-gon) and D2n in
group theory (to emphasize the order of the group).
Symmetry and Platonic Solids
There are natural symmetry groups associated with the Platonic solids. Because of duality, there
are really only three of these polyhedral groups. The symmetric nature of the platonic solids makes
these reasonably large groups (orders 12, 24 and 60 or double that if one includes reflections).
(This can be found in many introductory books on group theory. One thats freely available is
Frederick M. Goodmans Algebra: Abstract and Concrete.)
Another collection of finite multiplicative groups
Let Z0n = {1, 2, 3, . . . , n 1}. If n is an odd prime, then 2Z0n is a group where the operation is

Figure 1: Two platonic solids

multiplication modulo 2n. What is the identity element? Is this a different group than Z0n (with
multiplication modulo n)? (If n is prime, then this is what we called Z
n .) Can you extend this
example to kZ0n (with multiplication modulo kn)? When is this a group? (A reference for this is
More on the Symmetric Groups Sn
We barely touched the surface of these groups. You could talk about many things. For example,
in general the only normal subgroup of Sn is the alternating group An . But this is not true when
n = 4, when the Klein four group Z2 Z2 is also (isomorphic to) a subgroup of S4 .
The Alternating Group An
Alternatively, one could focus attention on the alternating group,the normal subgroup An of Sn .
Group Actions
One can identify a group G with bijections (or symmetries) on a set X. One way to do this is to
produce a homomorphism : G S(X) (where, remember, S(X) is the group of bijections on X).
We could (and do) alternately define a group action as a homomorphism : G X X and we
write (g, x) as g.x. This is a powerful idea because it allows us to apply our knowledge of group
theory to, for example, geometric objects.
Continued Fractions
A simple continued fraction can be written as
a1 +

a2 +

a3 + a +

To simplify things, this example is often written as [a1 ; a2 , a3 , a4 , ]). There are some cool
examples. For example, the golden ratio is = [1; 1, 1, 1, 1, ], the square root of two 2 =
[1; 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, ], and even e = [2; 1, 2, 1, 1, 4, 1, 1, 6, 1, 1, 8, 1, 1, 10, ]. See the Wikipedia link for
more examples and other cool properties.

Introductory Ring Theory

A ring generalizes a group by adding to an abelian group a second operation with an identity but not
necessarily an inverse. Thus the integers Z are also a ring: they are a group with addition but also
have multiplication. Usually the (communatative) group operation is written as addition and the
second (not necessarily abelian) operation is written as multiplication. There are distribution rules
to ensure that the two operations play nicely together, but these are familiar to us the distribution
rules for multiplication and addition.
Finite Fields
In general, a field is an abelian additive group that is also (if one removes zero) an abelian multiplicative group. The simplest (but not the only) examples of finite fields are Zp (where p is
Cayley graphs and the geometry of groups
This blog post by Terrence Tao (Fields Medal winner) at UCLA is very accessible, and an interesting
combination of group theory and graph theory. The Wikipedia article on Cayley graphs is also a
fine place to start.
Free groups / Presentations of groups in terms of generators and relations (computational groups)
A free group with generators S = {s, t} is all expressions (called words) of the form sa1 tb1 sa2 tb2 ,
where the aj s and bk s are (positive or negative) integers. Example words are
s1 t2 s3


t24 s3 t4 s2 t7 .

If the set S of generators is finite, we say (naturally) that the group is finitely generated. These
groups are infinite, but we can add relations among the generators to make the group finite or more
complicated. For example, with one generator s and one relation sn = e, the resulting group is
isomorphic to Zn . We usually write this as hs | sn i. A slightly more complicated familiar group is
the dihedral group D2n of order 2n, which we can write as

= r, f | rn , f 2 , rf rf ,
where r is a rotation and f is a reflection (a flip). This is called the presentation of a group.
Here are some questions you can ask: Given a group by its presentation, can you tell if the group is
finite? Can you find the the order of the group? Can we tell if two presented groups are isomorphic?
Elements of order two
What are the properties of the set of elements in a group that have order two? Here are some
questions that could be asked (and answered, and shown with examples and non-examples):

If |G| is even, must there be an element of order two?

If |G| is even, must there be an even or odd number of elements of order two? Or can you
provide examples of both?
If every element of G has order two, what can you say about G? Must it be abelian?
Perhaps you can come up with more.
Braid Groups
A nice example of a non-trivial group, using braids.
More on Quaternions
While we talked some about quaternions, there is a lot of material there. Some ideas: how are
quaternions used to model rotations? Can you talk about Lagranges four-square theorem?
More on Matrix Groups (SU (2), SO(3), rotations)

Lie Groups
A Lie group is a group that is also a differentiable manifold (essentially a smooth surface). Examples
include the matrix groups we saw earlier in the summer and the circle S 1 (with the operation as
addition of angles).
Galois theory
This is a fairly advanced topic, but there are several avenues that are approachable for entry-level
students of group theory. The Wikipedia article has some good explanations. One interesting
consequence for us is a proof of the Abel-Ruffini Theorem: there is no analog of the quadratic
formula that will work for all quintics. (This is called the unsolvability of the quintic equation.)
Sylow theorems
This is a small collection of theorems all dealing with the subgroups of a particular order of a given
finite group. More specifically, if pn is the highest power of a prime p that divides the order of G,
then there is subgroup of G of order pn . (And, in fact, if there is more than one such subgroup, the
two subgroups are conjugate. That is, if H and K are such subgroups, then K = gHg 1 for some
element g of G.)
Quadratic reciprocity

(or something else from Number Theory)

Quasi-groups (and loops and Moufang loops)

A quasigroup is a group without associativity or identity. Add in an identity element and it becomes
a loop. A Moufang loop is a loop with a weaker property than associativity called the Moufang
identity. These are more general structures than groups; for example, an associative Moufang loop
is a group.
Elliptic curves
There is a group on a specific kind of curve, called an elliptic curve.

y 2 = x3 3x + 1

y 2 = x3 3x + 2

y 2 = x3 3x + 3

Each point on the elliptic curve is an element of the group (also the point at infinity is used as
the identity element), with the group operation described geometrically. For points P and Q on
an elliptic curve, define P + Q by the line through P and Q. In general this line will intersect the
curve in a third point call it R then define P + Q to be the reflection of R across the x-axis
(see Figure ??). (There are details to figure out: What if the line is tangent to the curve? What if
the line doesnt intersect the curve a third time? And how does one prove associativity? See the
Wikipedia link or any number of references.)
Some applications:
Elliptic curve cryptography
These were used by Wiles in the proof of Fermats Last Theorem
The congruent number problem: which rational numbers can be the area of a right triangle
with rational sides?

Applications of group theory outside of math

RSA Encryption
The grandfather of all public key cryptosystems, this algorithm was devised (and patented!) in 1977

P +Q

Figure 2: The group operation of an elliptic curve

by three MIT cryptographers: Rivest, Shamir and Adleman (hence RSA). It is based on number
theory and the difficulty of factoring the product of two large prime numbers. As mentioned in
class, this is certainly large enough for (at least) two presentations.
Much to my surprise, group theory appears prominently in chemistry. The prime example is the
study of the symmetry of molecules. Last summer I learned that a commonly used textbook on
representation theory was written by a chemist. Who knew?

Other mathematics, but not direct applications of group


The Cardinality of Sets or Infinite sets (for example, Cantor sets)

See, in particular, Cantors diagonalization argument to show that the cardinality of the continuum
(of R) is greater than the cardinality of the integers.
Graph Theory
This is a field unto itself, with loads of applications in computer science (among others). See also
the mention of Cayley groups and the geometry of graphs, above.

Constructibility of the regular n-gon

Here is the Gauss-Wantzel Theorem: A regular n-gon can be constructed with compass and straightedge if n is the product of a power of 2 and any number of distinct Fermat primes.
Construction of the real numbers
I have in mind using equivalence classes of Cauchy sequences. You could also use such equivalence
classes to talk about completion of metric spaces. See also this question on math.stackexchange.com.