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W .K . N ic h o l s o n

(Received December 1991)

commutative ring theory. A short self-contained proof is given which requires only

elementary facts about rings.

and Y are additive subgroups of R, define their product by

f n

U =i

This is an associative operation. An additive subgroup K is called a left (right)

ideal of R if R K C K , and K is called an ideal if it is both a left and right ideal.

The ring R is called semiprime if A 2 / 0 for every nonzero ideal A , and R is called

left artinian if it satisfies the descending chain condition on left ideals (equivalently,

every nonempty family of left ideals has a minimal member).

The following theorem is a landmark in the theory of noncommutative rings.

R ^ M n i{D i) x M n2{D 2) x . . . x M nr(D r)

where each Di is a division ring and M n(D ) denotes the ring of n x n matrices

over D .

In this form the theorem was proved [1] in 1927 by Emil Artin (1898-1962)

generalizing the original 1908 result [4] of Joseph Henry Maclagan Wedderburn

(1882-1948) who proved it for finitely generated algebras over a field. The purpose

of this note is to give a quick, self-contained proof of this theorem. A key result

is the following observation [2] of Richard Brauer (1902-1977). Call a left ideal K

minimal if K / 0 and the only left ideals contained in K are 0 and K .

Then K = Re where e2 = e G R and eRe is a division ring.

minimality, so eu = u for some e G K . If r G K , this implies re-r G L = {a G K \

au = 0}. Now L is a left ideal, L C K , and L / K because eu ^ 0. So L = 0 and

it follows that e2 = e and K = Re.

Now let 0 / 6 G eRe. Then 0 / Rb C Re so Rb = Re by minimality, say e = rb.

Hence ( ere)b = er(eb ) = erb — e2 = e, so b has a left inverse in eRe. It follows

that eRe is a division ring. I

84 W .K. NICHOLSON

Corollary. Every nonzero left ideal in a semiprime, left artinian ring contains a

nonzero idempotent.

Proof. If L ^ 0 is a left ideal of R, the left artinian condition gives a minimal left

ideal K C L. Now (K R )2 ^ 0 because R is semiprime, so (K R )2 = K R K R C K 2R

shows that K 2 ^ 0. Hence Brauer’s lemma applies. |

necessarily semiprime. When R is simple the Wedderburn-Artin theorem is known

as Wedderburn’s Theorem and a short proof is well known (see Henderson [3]).

Since this result is needed in the general case, we sketch the proof. The left artinian

hypothesis is weakened to the existence of a minimal left ideal.

R = M n(D ) for some n > 1 and some division ring D .

nonzero ideal) so R = R 2 = ( K R ) 2 = K R K R C K 2R. Hence K 2 ± 0 so, by

Brauer’s lemma, K = Re where e2 = e and D = eRe is a division ring. Then K is

a right vector space over D and, if r E R, the map a r : K —> K given by a r (k) = rk

is a D-linear transformation. Hence r —> a r is a ring homomorphism R —>endd K ,

and it is one-to-one because a r = 0 implies rRe = 0 so 0 = rR eR — rR (R eR = R

because R is simple). To see that it is onto, write 1 G R eR as 1 =

Given a G end d K , let a = J2i ct(rie)eS{. Then the D-linearity o f a gives

finite dimensional (then end d K = M n(D) where n = dim/p K ) . But if dim^ K is

infinite, the set A = { a G endq K \a (K ) has finite dimension} is a proper ideal of

end d K , contrary to the simplicity of R. |

that R = end d K where K — Re is regarded as a right module over D = eRe.

To prove the Wedderburn-Artin theorem, it is convenient to introduce a weak

finiteness condition in a ring R. Let I denote the set of idempotents in R. Given

e , / in / , write e < f if e f = e = f e , that is if eRe C f R f . This is a partial

ordering on I (with 0 and 1 as the least and greatest elements) and I is said

to satisfy the maximum condition if every nonempty subset contains a maximal

element, equivalently if e\ < e2 < . . . in I implies en = en+i = . . . for some n > 1.

The minimum condition on I is defined analogously. A set of idempotents is called

orthogonal if e f = 0 for all e / / in the set.

A SHORT PROOF OF THE WEDDERBURN-ARTIN THEOREM 85

(2 ) R has minimum condition on idempotents.

(3 ) R has maximum condition on left ideals Re, e2 = e (on right ideals eR,

e2 = e).

(4 ) R has minimum condition on left ideals Re, e2 = e (on right ideals eR,

e2 — e).

(5 ) R contains no infinite orthogonal set of idempotents.

P ro o f. The verification that (1) -o- (2), (3) <*=> (4) and (3) =>• (5) =$■ (1) are routine,

so we prove that (1) =>• (3). If Re\ C R e 2 C .. . where e2 = e* for each i, then

e^ej = el for all j > i so we inductively construct idempotents f\ < f i < ... as

follows: Take f\ = e\ and, if fi has been specified, take fc+ i = /* 4- e ^ i — e ^ i f i .

An induction shows that fi e Rei for each i, whence fie k = fi for all k > i. Using

this one verifies that f 2 = fi and fi < f i+1 hold for each i > 1. Thus (1) implies

that f n = f n+1 = . . . for some n and hence that ei+ 1 = e ^ i f i 6 Rei for all i > n.

It follows that R en = Re n+1 = — The maximum condition on right ideals eR is

proved similarly. |

every left (or right) artinian or noetherian ring is /-finite.

P r o o f o f th e W e d d e rb u rn -A rtin T h eorem . Let R be a semiprime, left ar

tinian ring, let K be a minimal left ideal, let S = K R , and let M = {a e R \Sa =

0}. Then S and M are ideals of R and we claim that

R = S ® M. (*)

First 5 fl M = 0 because R is semiprime and (S D M )2 C S M = 0. Since R is

/-finite, let e be a maximal idempotent in S. To show that R = S + M , it suffices

to show 1 — e € M . If not, then 5(1 — e) / 0 so (by the Corollary to Brauer’s

lemma) let / e 5(1 — e) be a nonzero idempotent. Then f e = 0 and one verifies

that g = e + / — e f is an idempotent in 5 and e < g. The maximality of e then

gives e = g, so / = e f , whence f = f 2 — f e f = 0, a contradiction. So 1 — e € M

and R — S + M , proving (*).

Hence 5 and M are rings (with unity) and they inherit the hypotheses on R

because left ideals of 5 or M are left ideals of R by (*). Moreover, this shows

that 5 is simple. Indeed, if A ^ 0 is an ideal of 5 then A D K / 0 (otherwise

^42 C A K R C (A D K ) R = 0) so the minimality of K gives K C A, whence

5 = K R C A.

If M = 0 the proof is complete by Wedderburn’s theorem. Otherwise, repeat

the above with R replaced by M to get R = 5 ® 5i © M\ where S\ is simple.

This cannot continue indefinitely by the artinian hypothesis (or /-finiteness), so

Wedderburn’s theorem completes the proof. I

R em ark 2. These proofs actually yield the following: A ring R is semiprime and

left artinian if and only if it satisfies the following condition.

R is I-finite and every nonzero left ideal contains a nonzero idempotent. (**)

86 W .K. NICHOLSON

The necessity of (**) follows from Lemma 1 and the Corollary to Brauer’s lemma.

Conversely, if R satisfies (**) then the proofs of both theorems go through virtually

as written once the following is established: If E is a minimal nonzero idempotent,

then Re is a minimal left ideal. But if L C Re is a left ideal and L / 0, let

0 / f 2 = f G L. Then / e = / so <7 = e / € L is an idempotent, g ^ 0 (because

/ = fg ) and g < e. Thus g = e by the minimality of e, whence L = Re.

References

1. E. Artin, Zur Theorie der hypercomplexen Zahlen, Abh. Math. Sem. Univ.

Hamburg 5 (1927), 251-260.

2. R. Brauer, On the nilpotency of the radical of a rinq, Bull. Amer. Math. Soc.

48 (1942), 752-758.

3. D.W. Henderson, A short proof of Wedderbum’s theorem, Amer. Math.

Monthly 72 (1965), 385-386.

4. J.H.M. Wedderburn, On hypercomple numbers, Proc. London Math. Soc. 6

(1908), 77-117.

W .K . Nicholson

University of Calgary

Calgary

Alberta

C A N A D A T 2N 1N4

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