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A celebrated theorem of Gromov reads:

Theorem 1 Every finitely generated group of polynomial growth is virtually nilpotent.

The original proof of Gromov’s theorem was quite non-elementary, using an infinitary limit and exploiting the work surrounding the solution to Hilbert’s fifth problem. More recently, Kleiner provided a proof which was more elementary (based in large part on an earlier paper of Colding and Minicozzi), though still not entirely so, relying in part on (a weak form of the) Tits alternative and also on an ultrafilter argument of Korevaar-Schoen and Mok. I discuss Kleiner’s argument more in this previous blog post.

Recently, Yehuda Shalom and I established a quantitative version of Gromov’s theorem by making every component of Kleiner’s argument finitary. Technically, this provides a fully elementary proof of Gromov’s theorem (we do use one infinitary limit to simplify the argument a little bit, but this is not truly necessary); however, because we were trying to quantify as much of the result as possible, the argument became quite lengthy.

In this note I want to record a short version of the argument of Yehuda and myself which is not quantitative, but gives a self-contained and largely elementary proof of Gromov’s theorem. The argument is not too far from the Kleiner argument, but has a number of simplifications at various places. In a number of places, there was a choice to take between a short argument that was “inefficient” in the sense that it did not lead to a good quantitative bound, and a lengthier argument which led to better quantitative bounds. I have opted for the former in all such cases.

Yehuda and I plan to write a short paper containing this argument as well as some additional material, but due to some interest in this particular proof, we are detailing it here on this blog in advance of our paper.

Note: this post will assume familiarity with the basic terminology of group theory, and will move somewhat quickly through the technical details.

This week there is a conference here at IPAM on expanders in pure and applied mathematics. I was an invited speaker, but I don’t actually work in expanders per se (though I am certainly interested in them). So I spoke instead about the recent simplified proof by Kleiner of the celebrated theorem of Gromov on groups of polynomial growth. (This proof does not directly mention expanders, but the argument nevertheless hinges on the absence of expansion in the Cayley graph of a group of polynomial growth, which is exhibited through the smoothness properties of harmonic functions on such graphs.)