# A SIMPLE PROOF OF BURNSIDE S CRITERION FOR ALL GROUPS OF ORDER n TO BE CYCLIC

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1 A SIMPLE PROOF OF BURNSIDE S CRITERION FOR ALL GROUPS OF ORDER n TO BE CYCLIC SIDDHI PATHAK Abstract. This note gives a simple proof of a famous theorem of Burnside, namely, all groups of order n are cyclic if and only if (n, φ(n)) = 1, where φ denotes the Euler totient function. 1. Introduction The question of determining the number of isomorphism classes of groups of order n has long been of interest to mathematicians. One can ask a more basic question: For what natural numbers n, is there only one isomorphism class of groups of order n? Since we know that there exists a cyclic group of every order, this question reduces to finding natural numbers n such that all groups of order n are cyclic. The answer is given in the following well-known theorem by Burnside [1]. Let φ denote the Euler function. Theorem 1.1. All groups of order n are cyclic if and only if (n, φ(n)) = 1. Many different proofs of this fact are available. Practically all of them are inaccessible to the undergraduate student since they use Burnside s transfer theorem and representation theory [2]. Here, we would like to give another proof of this theorem which is elementary and uses only basic Sylow theory. Throughout this note, n denotes a positive integer and C n denotes the cyclic group of order n. 2. Groups of order pq Let p and q be two distinct primes, p < q. In this section, we investigate the structure of groups of order pq. The two cases to be considered are when p q 1 and p q 1. First, let us suppose that p q 1. In this case, every group of order pq is cyclic. Indeed, let G be a group of order pq. Let n p be the number of p-sylow subgroups and n q be the number of q-sylow subgroups of G. Then, according to Sylow s theorem, n q 1 mod q and n q p. Since p < q, n q = 1. Thus, the q-sylow subgroup, say Q, is normal in G. Again by Sylow s theorem, n p 1 mod p and n p q. Since q is prime, either n p = 1 or n p = q. But p q 1. Hence, n p = 1. Thus, the p-sylow subgroup, say P, is also normal in G. Also, since the order of non-identity elements of P and Q are co-prime, P Q = {e}. Thus, if a P and b Q, 2010 Mathematics Subject Classification. 20D60, 20E99. Key words and phrases. Number of groups of a given order, cyclic groups, Sylow theory. 1

2 2 SIDDHI PATHAK then consider the element c := aba 1 b 1 G. The normality of Q implies that aba 1 Q and hence, c Q. On the other hand, the normality of P implies that ba 1 b 1 P and hence, c P. Thus, c P Q = {e}. Therefore, the elements of P and Q commute with each other. This gives us a group homomorphism, Ψ : P Q G, such that Ψ(a, b) = ab. Since, P Q = {e}, Ψ is injective. P Q = G implies that Ψ is also surjective and hence, an isomorphism. As P and Q are cyclic groups of distinct prime order, P Q is cyclic and so is G. Therefore, if p q 1, then all groups of order pq are cyclic. Now, suppose p q 1. We claim that in this case, there exists a group of order pq which is not cyclic. Note that since p q 1, there exists an element in Aut(Z/qZ) of order p, say α p. To see this, note that Aut(Z/qZ) (Z/qZ) C q 1, and a cyclic group of order n contains an element of order d, for every divisor d of n. Thus, we get a group homomorphism, say θ, from C p to Aut(Z/qZ) by sending a generator of C p to α p. Denote θ(u) by θ u. Clearly, θ is a non-trivial map. We define the semi-direct product, C p θ C q as follows: As a set, C p θ C q := {(u, v) : u C p and v C q }. The group operation on this set is defined as (u, v).(u, v ) = (uu, θ u (v)v ). (1) One can check that this operation is indeed associative and makes C p θ C q into a group. To see that this group is non-abelian, consider (u, v) and (u, v ) in C p θ C q. Thus, (u, v ).(u, v) = (u u, θ u (v )v), which is not equal to (u, v).(u, v ) as evaluated in (1) since θ is non-trivial. Thus, if p q 1, then there exists a group of order pq which is not abelian, in particular, not cyclic. Remark. In fact, given any group G of order pq, one can show that it is either cyclic or isomorphic to the semi-direct product constructed above. Thus, if p q 1, there are exactly two isomorphism classes of groups of order pq. 3. Proof of the only if part Suppose all groups of order n are cyclic, i.e, there is only one isomorphism class of groups of order n. Since Z/p 2 Z and Z/pZ Z/pZ are 2 non-isomorphic groups of order p 2, we see that n is squarefree. Proof. Let us note that if n = k i=1 p i where, p 1,..., p k are distinct primes and p 1 < < p k, then (n, φ(n)) = 1 p i (p j 1), for all 1 i < j k. Now, suppose n is squarefree and (n, φ(n)) > 1, i.e, there exists a p i such that p i (p j 1) for some 1 i < j k. As seen in the earlier section, there exists a group, G of order p i p j that is not cyclic. Thus, G C n/pip j is a group of order n and is not cyclic. This contradicts our assumption that all groups of order n are cyclic. Hence, n and φ(n) must be coprime.

3 A SIMPLE PROOF OF BURNSIDE S CRITERION 3 4. Proof of the if part The condition that (n, φ(n)) = 1 helps us to infer that it is enough to consider only those n that are squarefree. Our proof hinges upon the following crucial lemma. Lemma 4.1. Let G be a finite group such that every proper subgroup of G is abelian. Then either G has prime order, or G has a non-trivial, proper, normal subgroup i.e, G is not simple. Proof. Let G be a group of order n. By a maximal subgroup of G, we will mean a nontrivial proper subgroup H of G such that, for any subgroup H of G that contains H, either H = G or H = H itself. Let M denote a maximal subgroup of G. Let M = m. Suppose M = {e},i.e, G contains no nontrivial proper subgroup. Sylow s first theorem thus implies that the order of G must be prime. Suppose n is not prime. Hence, m 2. Let N G (M) denote the normalizer of M in G. Recall that N G (M) = {g G : gmg 1 = M}. If M is normal in G, then clearly G is not simple. Therefore, let us suppose that M is not normal. Hence, N G (M) G. Since M N G (M) and M is maximal, N G (M) = M. Let the number of conjugates of M in G be r, r > 1. The number of conjugates of a subgroup in a group is equal to the index of its normalizer. Therefore, r = [G : N G (M)] = [G : M] = n m. Let {M 1,, M r } be the set of distinct conjugates of M. Suppose M i M j {e} for some 1 i < j r. Let K 1 := M i M j. Since M i and M j are abelian by hypothesis, K 1 M i, K 1 M j. (2) Therefore K 1 is normal in the group generated by M i and M j. Since conjugates of maximal subgroups are themselves maximal, the group generated by M i and M j is G. Thus, K 1 is normal in G and hence G is not simple. Therefore, we suppose that all the conjugates of M intersect trivially. Let V := r i=1 M i. Then, V = r(m 1) + 1 [ n ] = n m 1 < n. Thus, y G, y / V. If G is a cyclic group generated by y (of composite order), then the subgroup of G generated by y k for any k n, k 1, n is a non-trivial normal subgroup. So we can assume that the group generated by y is a proper subgroup of G. Let L be a maximal subgroup containing the subgroup of G generated by y. Since, y / V, L M i 1 i r. If L is normal in G, then G is clearly not simple. Therefore, suppose that L is not normal in G.

4 4 SIDDHI PATHAK Let the number of conjugates of L in G be s, s > 1. Let {L 1,, L s } be the set of distinct conjugates of L in G. If any two distinct conjugates of L or a conjugate of L and a conjugate of M intersect non-trivially, then the corresponding intersection is a normal subgroup of G by an argument similar to the one given above. Thus, G is not simple. Hence, it suffices to assume that M i M j = {e}, (3) M i L q = {e}, (4) L p L q = {e}, (5) for all 1 i < j r, for all 1 p < q s. Let L = l, l 2. Since L is not normal in G but is maximal, N G (L) = L. Thus, the number of conjugates of L in G is s = [G : N G (L)] = [G : L] = n l. Let W := s p=1l p. By (3), (4) and (5), V W = r(m 1) + s(l 1) + 1 = n n m + n n l + 1 = 2n n( 1 m + 1 l ) + 1 2n n + 1 > n, since m, l 2. But V W G. Therefore, V W n. This is a contradiction. Hence, G must have a nontrivial proper normal subgroup. We will now prove that if (n, φ(n)) = 1, then all groups of order n are cyclic. As seen earlier, we are reduced to the case when n is squarefree. Proof. We will proceed by induction on the number of prime factors of n. For the base case, assume that n is prime. Lagrange s theorem implies that any group of prime order is cyclic. Thus, the base case of our induction is true. Now suppose that the result holds for all n with at most k 1 distinct prime factors, for some k > 1. Let n = p 1 p k for distinct primes p 1,, p k and p 1 < p 2 <... < p k. Since k 2, Sylow s first theorem implies that G has nontrivial proper subgroups. Let P be a proper subgroup of G. Hence, P has fewer prime factors than k. Therefore, by induction hypothesis, P is cyclic and hence abelian. Thus, every proper subgroup of G is abelian. By Lemma 4.1, G has a nontrivial proper normal subgroup, say N. The induction hypothesis implies that G/N is cyclic. Therefore, G/N has a subgroup of index p i for some 1 i k. Let this subgroup be denoted by H. By the correspondence theorem of groups, all subgroups of G/N correspond to subgroups of G containing N. Let the subgroup of G corresponding to H via the above correspondence be H, i.e, H = H/N. Since G/N is abelian, H G/N and hence, H G. By the third isomorphism theorem of groups, / G/N H/N G/H.

5 A SIMPLE PROOF OF BURNSIDE S CRITERION 5 Since, [G/N : H] = p i, [G : H] = p i. Thus, G has a normal subgroup of index p i, namely, H. Note that H is cyclic. In particular, H C a, (6) where a = p 1 p i 1 p i+1 p k. Let K be a p i - Sylow subgroup of G. Thus, K C pi. (7) Consider the map Φ : K Aut(H) that sends an element k K to the automorphism γ k where, γ k is conjugation by k. Since H G, γ k is a well-defined map from H to H. Therefore, Φ is a well-defined group homomorphism. Since, ker(φ) is a subgroup of K and K has prime order, either ker(φ) = {e} or ker(φ) = K. Suppose, ker(φ) = {e}. Then, Φ(K) is isomorphic to a subgroup of Aut(H). By the induction hypothesis, H is isomorphic to the cyclic group of order H = p 1 p i 1 p i+1 p k. Thus, k H Z/p j Z. For any prime p, Therefore, Hence, Aut(Z/pZ) (Z/pZ). Aut(H) Aut(H) = k k (Z/p j Z). (p j 1). Thus, by Lagrange s theorem, K divides Aut(H), i.e, p i k (p j 1). Since (n, φ(n)) = 1, we see that p i (p j 1) for any 1 i, j k. We thus arrive at a contradiction. Hence, ker(φ) = K. Let k ker(φ) i.e, γ k is the identity homomorphism. Since ker(φ) = K, kh = hk for all h H and for all k K. We now claim that G H K. To prove this claim, consider the map Ψ : H K G sending a tuple (h, k) to the product hk. Since the elements of H and K commute with each other, Ψ is a group homomorphism. H has no element of order p i. Thus, H K = {e}. This implies that Ψ is injective and hence surjective as H K = G. Thus Ψ is the desired isomorphism. By (6) and (7), Thus, every group of order n is cyclic. G C n. Acknowledgement The above proof was a result of a long discussion with Prof. M. Ram Murty. I would like to thank him profusely for his guidance and help in writing the note. I would also like to thank the referee for useful comments on an earlier version of this note.

6 6 SIDDHI PATHAK References [1] J. Dixon, Problems in Group Theory, Dover Books, 1973, pg. 92, [2] W. R. Scott, Group Theory, Prentice Hall, 1964, pg (Siddhi Pathak) Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Queen s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, K7L3N6. address, Siddhi Pathak:

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