# Chapter 9: Group actions

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1 Chapter 9: Group actions Matthew Macauley Department of Mathematical Sciences Clemson University Math 4120, Summer I 2014 M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

2 Overview Intuitively, a group action occurs when a group G naturally permutes a set S of states. For example: The Rubik s cube group consists of the actions that permutated the configurations of the cube. The group D 4 consists of the 8 symmetries of the square. These symmetries are actions that permuted the 8 configurations of the square. Group actions help us understand the interplay between the actual group of actions and sets of objects that they rearrange. There are many other examples of groups that act on sets of objects. We will see examples when the group and the set have different sizes. There is a rich theory of group actions, and it can be used to prove many deep results in group theory. M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

3 Actions vs. configurations The group D 4 can be thought of as the 8 symmetries of the square: There is a subtle but important distinction to make, between the actual 8 symmetries of the square, and the 8 configurations. For example, the 8 symmetries (alternatively, actions ) can be thought of as e, r, r 2, r 3, f, rf, r 2 f, r 3 f. The 8 configurations (or states) of the square are the following: When we were just learning about groups, we made an action diagram. The vertices correspond to the states. The edges correspond to generators. The paths corresponded to actions (group elements). M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

4 Actions diagrams Here is the action diagram of the group D 4 = r, f : In the beginning of this course, we picked a configuration to be the solved state, and this gave us a bijection between configurations and actions (group elements). The resulting diagram was a Cayley diagram. In this chapter, we ll skip this step. M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

5 Actions diagrams In all of the examples we saw in the beginning of the course, we had a bijective correspondence between actions and states. This need not always happen! Suppose we have a size-7 set consisting of the following binary squares. { } S = ,,,,,, The group D 4 = r, f acts on S as follows: The action diagram above has some properties of Cayley diagrams, but there are some fundamental differences as well. M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

6 A group switchboard Suppose we have a switchboard for G, with every element g G having a button. If a G, then pressing the a-button rearranges the objects in our set S. In fact, it is a permutation of S; call it φ(a). If b G, then pressing the b-button rearranges the objects in S a different way. Call this permutation φ(b). The element ab G also has a button. We require that pressing the ab-button yields the same result as pressing the a-button, followed by the b-button. That is, φ(ab) = φ(a)φ(b), for all a, b G. Let Perm(S) be the group of permutations of S. Thus, if S = n, then Perm(S) = S n. (We typically think of S n as the permutations of {1, 2,..., n}.) Definition A group G acts on a set S if there is a homomorphism φ: G Perm(S). M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

7 A group switchboard Returning to our binary square example, pressing the r-button and f -button permutes the set S as follows: φ(r) : φ(f ) : Observe how these permutations are encoded in the action diagram: M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

8 Left actions vs. right actions (an annoyance we can deal with) As we ve defined group actions, pressing the a-button followed by the b-button should be the same as pressing the ab-button. However, sometimes it has to be the same as pressing the ba-button. This is best seen by an example. Suppose our action is conjugation: conjugate by a Left group action conjugate by b H aha 1 baha 1 b 1 conjugate by ba φ(a)φ(b) = φ(ba) Right group action conjugate by a conjugate by b H a 1 Ha b 1 a 1 Hab conjugate by ab φ(a)φ(b) = φ(ab) Some books forgo our φ-notation and use the following notation to distinguish left vs. right group actions: g.(h.s) = (gh).s, (s.g).h = s.(gh). We ll usually keep the φ, and write φ(g)φ(h)s = φ(gh)s and s.φ(g)φ(h) = s.φ(gh). As with groups, the dot will be optional. M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

9 Left actions vs. right actions (an annoyance we can deal with) Alternative definition (other textbooks) A right group action is a mapping G S S, (a, s) s.a such that s.(ab) = (s.a).b, for all a, b G and s S s.e = s, for all s S. A left group action can be defined similarly. Pretty much all of the theorems for left actions hold for right actions. Usually if there is a left action, there is a related right action. We will usually use right actions, and we will write s.φ(g) for the element of S that the permutation φ(g) sends s to, i.e., where pressing the g-button sends s. If we have a left action, we ll write φ(g).s. M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

10 Cayley diagrams as action diagrams Every Cayley diagram can be thought of as the action diagram of a particular (right) group action. For example, consider the group G = D 4 = r, f acting on itself. That is, S = D 4 = {e, r, r 2, r 3, f, rf, r 2 f, r 3 f }. Suppose that pressing the g-button on our group switchboard multiplies every element on the right by g. Here is the action diagram: f rf e r r 3 r 2 r 3 f r 2 f We say that G acts on itself by right-multiplication. M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

11 Orbits, stabilizers, and fixed points Suppose G acts on a set S. Pick a configuration s S. We can ask two questions about it: (i) What other states (in S) are reachable from s? (We call this the orbit of s.) (ii) What group elements (in G) fix s? (We call this the stabilizer of s.) Definition Suppose that G acts on a set S (on the right) via φ: G S. (i) The orbit of s S is the set (ii) The stabilizer of s in G is Orb(s) = {s.φ(g) g G}. Stab(s) = {g G s.φ(g) = s}. (iii) The fixed points of the action are the orbits of size 1: Fix(φ) = {s S s.φ(g) = s for all g G}. Note that the orbits of φ are the connected components in the action diagram. M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

12 Orbits, stabilizers, and fixed points Let s revisit our running example: The orbits are the 3 connected components. There is only one fixed point of φ. The stabilizers are: ( ) ( ) ( ) Stab = D 4, Stab = {e, r 2, rf, r 3 f }, Stab = {e, f }, ( ) ( ) Stab = {e, r 2, rf, r 3 f }, Stab = {e, r 2 f }, ( ) Stab = {e, f }, ( ) Stab = {e, r 2 f }. Observations? M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

13 Orbits and stabilizers Proposition For any s S, the set Stab(s) is a subgroup of G. Proof (outline) To show Stab(s) is a group, we need to show three things: (i) Contains the identity. That is, s.φ(e) = s. (ii) Inverses exist. That is, if s.φ(g) = s, then s.φ(g 1 ) = s. (iii) Closure. That is, if s.φ(g) = s and s.φ(h) = s, then s.φ(gh) = s. You ll do this on the homework. Remark The kernel of the action φ is the set of all group elements that fix everything in S: Ker φ = {g G φ(g) = e} = {g G s.φ(g) = s for all s S}. Notice that Ker φ = s S Stab(s). M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

14 The Orbit-Stabilizer Theorem The following result is another one of the crowning achievements of group theory. Orbit-Stabilizer theorem For any group action φ: G Perm(S), and any s S, Orb(s) Stab(s) = G. Proof Since Stab(s) < G, Lagrange s theorem tells us that [G : Stab(s)] Stab(s) = G. }{{}}{{} number of cosets size of subgroup Thus, it suffices to show that Orb(s) = [G : Stab(s)]. Goal: Exhibit a bijection between elements of Orb(s), and right cosets of Stab(s). That is, two elements in G send s to the same place iff they re in the same coset. M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

15 The Orbit-Stabilizer Theorem: Orb(s) Stab(s) = G Proof (cont.) Let s look at our previous example to get some intuition for why this should be true. We are seeking a bijection between Orb(s), and the right cosets of Stab(s). That is, two elements in G send s to the same place iff they re in the same coset. Let s = G = D 4 and H = f Then Stab(s) = f. Partition of D 4 by the right cosets of H : e r r 2 r 3 f fr fr 2 fr 3 H Hr Hr 2 Hr 3 Note that s.φ(g) = s.φ(k) iff g and k are in the same right coset of H in G. M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

16 The Orbit-Stabilizer Theorem: Orb(s) Stab(s) = G Proof (cont.) Throughout, let H = Stab(s). If two elements send s to the same place, then they are in the same coset. Suppose g, k G both send s to the same element of S. This means: s.φ(g) = s.φ(k) = s.φ(g)φ(k) 1 = s = s.φ(g)φ(k 1 ) = s = s.φ(gk 1 ) = s (i.e., gk 1 stabilizes s) = gk 1 H (recall that H = Stab(s)) = Hgk 1 = H = Hg = Hk If two elements are in the same coset, then they send s to the same place. Take two elements g, k G in the same right coset of H. This means Hg = Hk. This is the last line of the proof of the forward direction, above. We can change each = into, and thus conclude that s.φ(g) = s.φ(k). If we have instead, a left group action, the proof carries through but using left cosets. M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

17 Groups acting on elements, subgroups, and cosets It is frequently of interest to analyze the action of a group G on its elements, subgroups, or cosets of some fixed H G. Sometimes, the orbits and stabilizers of these actions are actually familiar algebraic objects. Also, sometimes a deep theorem has a slick proof via a clever group action. For example, we will see how Cayley s theorem (every group G is isomorphic to a group of permutations) follows immediately once we look at the correct action. Here are common examples of group actions: G acts on itself by right-multiplication (or left-multiplication). G acts on itself by conjugation. G acts on its subgroups by conjugation. G acts on the right-cosets of a fixed subgroup H G by right-multiplication. For each of these, we ll analyze the orbits, stabilizers, and fixed points. M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

18 Groups acting on themselves by right-multiplication We ve seen how groups act on themselves by right-multiplication. While this action is boring (any Cayley diagram is an action diagram!), it leads to a slick proof of Cayley s theorem. Cayley s theorem If G = n, then there is an embedding G S n. Proof. The group G acts on itself (that is, S = G) by right-multiplication: φ: G Perm(S) = S n, φ(g) = the permutation that sends each x xg. There is only one orbit: G = S. The stabilizer of any x G is just the identity element: Stab(x) = {g G xg = x} = {e}. Therefore, the kernel of this action is Ker φ = Stab(x) = {e}. x G Since Ker φ = {e}, the homomorphism φ is an embedding. M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

19 Groups acting on themselves by conjugation Another way a group G can act on itself (that is, S = G) is by conjugation: φ: G Perm(S), φ(g) = the permutation that sends each x g 1 xg. The orbit of x G is its conjugacy class: Orb(x) = {x.φ(g) g G} = {g 1 xg g G} = cl G (x). The stabilizer of x is the set of elements that commute with x; called its centralizer: Stab(x) = {g G g 1 xg = x} = {g G xg = gx} := C G (x) The fixed points of φ are precisely those in the center of G: Fix(φ) = {x G g 1 xg = x for all g G} = Z(G). By the Orbit-Stabilizer theorem, G = Orb(x) Stab(x) = cl G (x) C G (x). Thus, we immediately get the following new result about conjugacy classes: Theorem For any x G, the size of the conjugacy class cl G (x) divides the size of G. M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

20 Groups acting on themselves by conjugation As an example, consider the action of G = D 6 on itself by conjugation. The orbits of the action are the conjugacy classes: e r 3 r r 5 r 2 r 4 f rf r 2 f r 3 f r 4 f r 5 f The fixed points of φ are the size-1 conjugacy classes. These are the elements in the center: Z(D 6) = {e} {r 3 } = r 3. By the Orbit-Stabilizer theorem: The stabilizer subgroups are as follows: Stab(e) = Stab(r 3 ) = D 6, Stab(x) = D6 Orb(x) = 12 cl G (x). Stab(r) = Stab(r 2 ) = Stab(r 4 ) = Stab(r 5 ) = r = C 6, Stab(f ) = {e, r 3, f, r 3 f } = r 3, f, Stab(rf ) = {e, r 3, rf, r 4 f } = r 3, rf, Stab(r i f ) = {e, r 3, r i f, r i f } = r 3, r i f. M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

21 Groups acting on subgroups by conjugation Let G = D 3, and let S be the set of proper subgroups of G: { } S = e, r, f, rf, r 2 f. There is a right group action of D 3 = r, f on S by conjugation: τ : D 3 Perm(S), τ(g) = the permutation that sends each H to g 1 Hg. τ(e) = e r f rf r 2 f τ(r) = e r f rf r 2 f e f τ(r 2 ) = e r f rf r 2 f r r 2 f rf τ(f ) = e r f rf r 2 f τ(rf ) = e r f rf r 2 f τ(r 2 f ) = e r f rf r 2 f The action diagram. Stab( e ) = Stab( r ) = D 3 = N D3 ( r ) Stab( f ) = f = N D3 ( f ), Stab( rf ) = rf = N D3 ( rf ), Stab( r 2 f ) = r 2 f = N D3 ( r 2 f ). M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

22 Groups acting on subgroups by conjugation More generally, any group G acts on its set S of subgroups by conjugation: φ: G Perm(S), φ(g) = the permutation that sends each H to g 1 Hg. This is a right action, but there is an associated left action: H ghg 1. Let H G be an element of S. The orbit of H consists of all conjugate subgroups: Orb(H) = {g 1 Hg g G}. The stabilizer of H is the normalizer of H in G: Stab(H) = {g G g 1 Hg = H} = N G (H). The fixed points of φ are precisely the normal subgroups of G: Fix(φ) = {H G g 1 Hg = H for all g G}. The kernel of this action is G iff every subgroup of G is normal. In this case, φ is the trivial homomorphism: pressing the g-button fixes (i.e., normalizes) every subgroup. M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

23 Groups acting on cosets of H by right-multiplication Fix a subgroup H G. Then G acts on its right cosets by right-multiplication: φ: G Perm(S), φ(g) = the permutation that sends each Hx to Hxg. Let Hx be an element of S = G/H (the right cosets of H). There is only one orbit. For example, given two cosets Hx and Hy, φ(x 1 y) sends Hx Hx(x 1 y) = Hy. The stabilizer of Hx is the conjugate subgroup x 1 Hx: Stab(Hx) = {g G Hxg = Hx} = {g G Hxgx 1 = H} = x 1 Hx. Assuming H G, there are no fixed points of φ. The only orbit has size [G : H] > 1. The kernel of this action is the intersection of all conjugate subgroups of H: Ker φ = x 1 Hx x G Notice that e Ker φ H, and Ker φ = H iff H G. M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

24 More on fixed points Recall the subtle difference between fixed points and stabilizers: Lemma The fixed points of an action φ: G Perm(S) are the elements of S fixed by every g G. The stabilizer of an element s S is the set of elements of G that fix s. If a group G of prime order p acts on a set S via φ: G Perm(S), then Fix(φ) S (mod p). Proof (sketch) By the Orbit-Stabilizer theorem, all orbits have size 1 or p. Fix(φ) non-fixed points all in size-p orbits p elts p elts p elts I ll let you fill in the details. p elts p elts M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

25 Cauchy s Theorem Cauchy s theorem If p is a prime number dividing G, then G has an element g of order p. Proof Let P be the set of ordered p-tuples of elements from G whose product is e, i.e., (x 1, x 2,..., x p) P iff x 1x 2 x p = e. Observe that P = G p 1. (We can choose x 1,..., x p 1 freely; then x p is forced.) The group Z p acts on P by cyclic shift: φ: Z p Perm(P), (x 1, x 2,..., x p) φ(1) (x 2, x 3..., x p, x 1). (This is because if x 1x 2 x p = e, then x 2x 3 x px 1 = e as well.) The elements of P are partitioned into orbits. By the orbit-stabilizer theorem, Orb(s) = [Z p : Stab(s)], which divides Z p = p. Thus, Orb(s) = 1 or p. Observe that the only way that an orbit of (x 1, x 2,..., x p) could have size 1 is if x 1 = x 2 = = x p. M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

26 Cauchy s Theorem Proof (cont.) Clearly, (e, e,..., e) P, and the orbit containing it has size 1. Excluding (e,..., e), there are G p 1 1 other elements in P, and these are partitioned into orbits of size 1 or p. Since p G p 1 1, there must be some other orbit of size 1. Thus, there is some (x, x,..., x) P, with x e such that x p = e. Corollary If p is a prime number dividing G, then G has a subgroup of order p. Note that just by using the theory of group actions, and the orbit-stabilzer theorem, we have already proven: Cayley s theorem: Every group G is isomorphic to a group of permutations. The size of a conjugacy class divides the size of G. Cauchy s theorem: If p divides G, then G has an element of order p. M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

27 Classification of groups of order 6 By Cauchy s theorem, every group of order 6 must have an element a of order 2, and an element b of order 3. Clearly, G = a, b for two such elements. Thus, G must have a Cayley diagram that looks like the following: e b b 2 a ab ab 2 It is now easy to see that up to isomorphism, there are only 2 groups of order 6: e b b 2 e b b 2 D 3 C 6 = C2 C 3 a ab ab 2 a ab ab 2 M. Macauley (Clemson) Chapter 9: Group actions Math 4120, Summer I / 27

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