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In the previous set of notes we saw how a representation-theoretic property of groups, namely Kazhdan’s property (T), could be used to demonstrate expansion in Cayley graphs. In this set of notes we discuss a different representation-theoretic property of groups, namely quasirandomness, which is also useful for demonstrating expansion in Cayley graphs, though in a somewhat different way to property (T). For instance, whereas property (T), being qualitative in nature, is only interesting for infinite groups such as {SL_d({\bf Z})} or {SL_d({\bf R})}, and only creates Cayley graphs after passing to a finite quotient, quasirandomness is a quantitative property which is directly applicable to finite groups, and is able to deduce expansion in a Cayley graph, provided that random walks in that graph are known to become sufficiently “flat” in a certain sense.

The definition of quasirandomness is easy enough to state:

Definition 1 (Quasirandom groups) Let {G} be a finite group, and let {D \geq 1}. We say that {G} is {D}-quasirandom if all non-trivial unitary representations {\rho: G \rightarrow U(H)} of {G} have dimension at least {D}. (Recall a representation is trivial if {\rho(g)} is the identity for all {g \in G}.)

Exercise 1 Let {G} be a finite group, and let {D \geq 1}. A unitary representation {\rho: G \rightarrow U(H)} is said to be irreducible if {H} has no {G}-invariant subspaces other than {\{0\}} and {H}. Show that {G} is {D}-quasirandom if and only if every non-trivial irreducible representation of {G} has dimension at least {D}.

Remark 1 The terminology “quasirandom group” was introduced explicitly (though with slightly different notational conventions) by Gowers in 2008 in his detailed study of the concept; the name arises because dense Cayley graphs in quasirandom groups are quasirandom graphs in the sense of Chung, Graham, and Wilson, as we shall see below. This property had already been used implicitly to construct expander graphs by Sarnak and Xue in 1991, and more recently by Gamburd in 2002 and by Bourgain and Gamburd in 2008. One can of course define quasirandomness for more general locally compact groups than the finite ones, but we will only need this concept in the finite case. (A paper of Kunze and Stein from 1960, for instance, exploits the quasirandomness properties of the locally compact group {SL_2({\bf R})} to obtain mixing estimates in that group.)

Quasirandomness behaves fairly well with respect to quotients and short exact sequences:

Exercise 2 Let {0 \rightarrow H \rightarrow G \rightarrow K \rightarrow 0} be a short exact sequence of finite groups {H,G,K}.

  • (i) If {G} is {D}-quasirandom, show that {K} is {D}-quasirandom also. (Equivalently: any quotient of a {D}-quasirandom finite group is again a {D}-quasirandom finite group.)
  • (ii) Conversely, if {H} and {K} are both {D}-quasirandom, show that {G} is {D}-quasirandom also. (In particular, the direct or semidirect product of two {D}-quasirandom finite groups is again a {D}-quasirandom finite group.)

Informally, we will call {G} quasirandom if it is {D}-quasirandom for some “large” {D}, though the precise meaning of “large” will depend on context. For applications to expansion in Cayley graphs, “large” will mean “{D \geq |G|^c} for some constant {c>0} independent of the size of {G}“, but other regimes of {D} are certainly of interest.

The way we have set things up, the trivial group {G = \{1\}} is infinitely quasirandom (i.e. it is {D}-quasirandom for every {D}). This is however a degenerate case and will not be discussed further here. In the non-trivial case, a finite group can only be quasirandom if it is large and has no large subgroups:

Exercise 3 Let {D \geq 1}, and let {G} be a finite {D}-quasirandom group.

  • (i) Show that if {G} is non-trivial, then {|G| \geq D+1}. (Hint: use the mean zero component {\tau\downharpoonright_{\ell^2(G)_0}} of the regular representation {\tau: G \rightarrow U(\ell^2(G))}.) In particular, non-trivial finite groups cannot be infinitely quasirandom.
  • (ii) Show that any proper subgroup {H} of {G} has index {[G:H] \geq D+1}. (Hint: use the mean zero component of the quasiregular representation.)

The following exercise shows that quasirandom groups have to be quite non-abelian, and in particular perfect:

Exercise 4 (Quasirandomness, abelianness, and perfection) Let {G} be a finite group.

  • (i) If {G} is abelian and non-trivial, show that {G} is not {2}-quasirandom. (Hint: use Fourier analysis or the classification of finite abelian groups.)
  • (ii) Show that {G} is {2}-quasirandom if and only if it is perfect, i.e. the commutator group {[G,G]} is equal to {G}. (Equivalently, {G} is {2}-quasirandom if and only if it has no non-trivial abelian quotients.)

Later on we shall see that there is a converse to the above two exercises; any non-trivial perfect finite group with no large subgroups will be quasirandom.

Exercise 5 Let {G} be a finite {D}-quasirandom group. Show that for any subgroup {G'} of {G}, {G'} is {D/[G:G']}-quasirandom, where {[G:G'] := |G|/|G'|} is the index of {G'} in {G}. (Hint: use induced representations.)

Now we give an example of a more quasirandom group.

Lemma 2 (Frobenius lemma) If {F_p} is a field of some prime order {p}, then {SL_2(F_p)} is {\frac{p-1}{2}}-quasirandom.

This should be compared with the cardinality {|SL_2(F_p)|} of the special linear group, which is easily computed to be {(p^2-1) \times p = p^3 - p}.

Proof: We may of course take {p} to be odd. Suppose for contradiction that we have a non-trivial representation {\rho: SL_2(F_p) \rightarrow U_d({\bf C})} on a unitary group of some dimension {d} with {d < \frac{p-1}{2}}. Set {a} to be the group element

\displaystyle  a := \begin{pmatrix} 1 & 1 \\ 0 & 1 \end{pmatrix},

and suppose first that {\rho(a)} is non-trivial. Since {a^p=1}, we have {\rho(a)^p=1}; thus all the eigenvalues of {\rho(a)} are {p^{th}} roots of unity. On the other hand, by conjugating {a} by diagonal matrices in {SL_2(F_p)}, we see that {a} is conjugate to {a^m} (and hence {\rho(a)} conjugate to {\rho(a)^m}) whenever {m} is a quadratic residue mod {p}. As such, the eigenvalues of {\rho(a)} must be permuted by the operation {x \mapsto x^m} for any quadratic residue mod {p}. Since {\rho(a)} has at least one non-trivial eigenvalue, and there are {\frac{p-1}{2}} distinct quadratic residues, we conclude that {\rho(a)} has at least {\frac{p-1}{2}} distinct eigenvalues. But {\rho(a)} is a {d \times d} matrix with {d < \frac{p-1}{2}}, a contradiction. Thus {a} lies in the kernel of {\rho}. By conjugation, we then see that this kernel contains all unipotent matrices. But these matrices generate {SL_2(F_p)} (see exercise below), and so {\rho} is trivial, a contradiction. \Box

Exercise 6 Show that for any prime {p}, the unipotent matrices

\displaystyle  \begin{pmatrix} 1 & t \\ 0 & 1 \end{pmatrix}, \begin{pmatrix} 1 & 0 \\ t & 1 \end{pmatrix}

for {t} ranging over {F_p} generate {SL_2(F_p)} as a group.

Exercise 7 Let {G} be a finite group, and let {D \geq 1}. If {G} is generated by a collection {G_1,\ldots,G_k} of {D}-quasirandom subgroups, show that {G} is itself {D}-quasirandom.

Exercise 8 Show that {SL_d(F_p)} is {\frac{p-1}{2}}-quasirandom for any {d \geq 2} and any prime {p}. (This is not sharp; the optimal bound here is {\gg_d p^{d-1}}, which follows from the results of Landazuri and Seitz.)

As a corollary of the above results and Exercise 2, we see that the projective special linear group {PSL_d(F_p)} is also {\frac{p-1}{2}}-quasirandom.

Remark 2 One can ask whether the bound {\frac{p-1}{2}} in Lemma 2 is sharp, assuming of course that {p} is odd. Noting that {SL_2(F_p)} acts linearly on the plane {F_p^2}, we see that it also acts projectively on the projective line {PF_p^1 := (F_p^2 \backslash \{0\}) / F_p^\times}, which has {p+1} elements. Thus {SL_2(F_p)} acts via the quasiregular representation on the {p+1}-dimensional space {\ell^2(PF_p^1)}, and also on the {p}-dimensional subspace {\ell^2(PF_p^1)_0}; this latter representation (known as the Steinberg representation) is irreducible. This shows that the {\frac{p-1}{2}} bound cannot be improved beyond {p}. More generally, given any character {\chi: F_p^\times \rightarrow S^1}, {SL_2(F_p)} acts on the {p+1}-dimensional space {V_\chi} of functions {f \in \ell^2( F_p^2 \backslash \{0\} )} that obey the twisted dilation invariance {f(tx) = \chi(t) f(x)} for all {t \in F_p^\times} and {x \in F_p^2 \backslash \{0\}}; these are known as the principal series representations. When {\chi} is the trivial character, this is the quasiregular representation discussed earlier. For most other characters, this is an irreducible representation, but it turns out that when {\chi} is the quadratic representation (thus taking values in {\{-1,+1\}} while being non-trivial), the principal series representation splits into the direct sum of two {\frac{p+1}{2}}-dimensional representations, which comes very close to matching the bound in Lemma 2. There is a parallel series of representations to the principal series (known as the discrete series) which is more complicated to describe (roughly speaking, one has to embed {F_p} in a quadratic extension {F_{p^2}} and then use a rotated version of the above construction, to change a split torus into a non-split torus), but can generate irreducible representations of dimension {\frac{p-1}{2}}, showing that the bound in Lemma 2 is in fact exactly sharp. These constructions can be generalised to arbitrary finite groups of Lie type using Deligne-Luzstig theory, but this is beyond the scope of this course (and of my own knowledge in the subject).

Exercise 9 Let {p} be an odd prime. Show that for any {n \geq p+2}, the alternating group {A_n} is {p-1}-quasirandom. (Hint: show that all cycles of order {p} in {A_n} are conjugate to each other in {A_n} (and not just in {S_n}); in particular, a cycle is conjugate to its {j^{th}} power for all {j=1,\ldots,p-1}. Also, as {n \geq 5}, {A_n} is simple, and so the cycles of order {p} generate the entire group.)

Remark 3 By using more precise information on the representations of the alternating group (using the theory of Specht modules and Young tableaux), one can show the slightly sharper statement that {A_n} is {n-1}-quasirandom for {n \geq 6} (but is only {3}-quasirandom for {n=5} due to icosahedral symmetry, and {1}-quasirandom for {n \leq 4} due to lack of perfectness). Using Exercise 3 with the index {n} subgroup {A_{n-1}}, we see that the bound {n-1} cannot be improved. Thus, {A_n} (for large {n}) is not as quasirandom as the special linear groups {SL_d(F_p)} (for {p} large and {d} bounded), because in the latter case the quasirandomness is as strong as a power of the size of the group, whereas in the former case it is only logarithmic in size.

If one replaces the alternating group {A_n} with the slightly larger symmetric group {S_n}, then quasirandomness is destroyed (since {S_n}, having the abelian quotient {S_n/A_n}, is not perfect); indeed, {S_n} is {1}-quasirandom and no better.

Remark 4 Thanks to the monumental achievement of the classification of finite simple groups, we know that apart from a finite number (26, to be precise) of sporadic exceptions, all finite simple groups (up to isomorphism) are either a cyclic group {{\bf Z}/p{\bf Z}}, an alternating group {A_n}, or is a finite simple group of Lie type such as {PSL_d(F_p)}. (We will define the concept of a finite simple group of Lie type more precisely in later notes, but suffice to say for now that such groups are constructed from reductive algebraic groups, for instance {PSL_d(F_p)} is constructed from {SL_d} in characteristic {p}.) In the case of finite simple groups {G} of Lie type with bounded rank {r=O(1)}, it is known from the work of Landazuri and Seitz that such groups are {\gg |G|^c}-quasirandom for some {c>0} depending only on the rank. On the other hand, by the previous remark, the large alternating groups do not have this property, and one can show that the finite simple groups of Lie type with large rank also do not have this property. Thus, we see using the classification that if a finite simple group {G} is {|G|^c}-quasirandom for some {c>0} and {|G|} is sufficiently large depending on {c}, then {G} is a finite simple group of Lie type with rank {O_c(1)}. It would be of interest to see if there was an alternate way to establish this fact that did not rely on the classification, as it may lead to an alternate approach to proving the classification (or perhaps a weakened version thereof).

A key reason why quasirandomness is desirable for the purposes of demonstrating expansion is that quasirandom groups happen to be rapidly mixing at large scales, as we shall see below the fold. As such, quasirandomness is an important tool for demonstrating expansion in Cayley graphs, though because expansion is a phenomenon that must hold at all scales, one needs to supplement quasirandomness with some additional input that creates mixing at small or medium scales also before one can deduce expansion. As an example of this technique of combining quasirandomness with mixing at small and medium scales, we present a proof (due to Sarnak-Xue, and simplified by Gamburd) of a weak version of the famous “3/16 theorem” of Selberg on the least non-trivial eigenvalue of the Laplacian on a modular curve, which among other things can be used to construct a family of expander Cayley graphs in {SL_2({\bf Z}/N{\bf Z})} (compare this with the property (T)-based methods in the previous notes, which could construct expander Cayley graphs in {SL_d({\bf Z}/N{\bf Z})} for any fixed {d \geq 3}).

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