I’m continuing the stream of uploaded papers this week with my paper “Freiman’s theorem for solvable groups“, submitted to Contrib. Disc. Math..  This paper concerns the problem (discussed in this earlier blog post) of determining the correct analogue of Freiman’s theorem in a general non-abelian group G = (G,\cdot).  Specifically, if A \subset G is a finite set that obeys the doubling condition |A \cdot A| \leq K|A| for some bounded K, what does this tell us about A?  Heuristically, we expect A to behave like a finite subgroup of G (or perhaps a coset of such a subgroup).

When G is the integers (with the additive group operation), Freiman’s theorem then tells us that A is controlled by a generalised arithmetic progression P, where I say that one set A is controlled by another P if they have comparable size, and the former can be covered by a finite number of translates of the latter.  (One can view generalised arithmetic progressions as an approximate version of a subgroup, in which one only uses the generators of the progression for a finite amount of time before stopping, as opposed to groups which allow words of unbounded length in the generators.) For more general abelian groups, the Freiman theorem of Green and Ruzsa tells us that a set of bounded doubling is controlled by a generalised coset progression P+H, i.e. the sum of a generalised arithmetic progression P and a finite subgroup H of G.  (Of course, if G is torsion-free, the finite subgroup H must be trivial.)

In this paper we address the case when G is a solvable group of bounded derived length.  The main result is that if a subset of G has small doubing, then it is controlled by an object which I call a “coset nilprogression”, which is a certain technical generalisation of a coset progression, in which the generators do not quite commute, but have commutator expressible in terms of “higher order” generators.  This is essentially a sharp characterisation of such sets, except for the fact that one would like a more explicit description of these coset nilprogressions.   In the torsion-free case, a more explicit description (analogous to the Mal’cev basis description of nilpotent groups) has appeared in a very recent paper of Breulliard and Green; in the case of monomial groups (a class of groups that overlaps to a large extent with solvable groups), and assuming a polynomial growth condition rather than a doubling condition, a related result controlling A by balls in a suitable type of metric has appeared in very recent work of Sanders.  In the nilpotent case there is also a nice recent argument of Fisher, Peng, and Katz which shows that sets of small doubling remain of small doubling with respect to the Lie algebra operations of addition and Lie bracket, and thus are amenable to the abelian Freiman theorems.

The conclusion of my paper is easiest to state (and easiest to prove) in the model case of the lamplighter group G = {\Bbb Z} \rtimes {\Bbb F}_2^\omega, where {\Bbb F}_2^\omega = \lim_{n \to \infty} {\Bbb F}_2^n is the additive group of doubly infinite sequences in the finite field {\Bbb F}_2 with only finitely many non-zero entries, and {\Bbb Z} acts on this space by translations.  This is a solvable group of derived length two.  The main result here is

Theorem 1. (Freiman’s theorem for the lamplighter group) If A \subset {\Bbb Z} \ltimes {\Bbb F}_2^\omega has bounded doubling, then A is controlled either by a finite subspace of the “vertical” group \{0\} \times {\Bbb F}_2^\omega, or else by a set of the form \{ (n,\phi(n)): n \in P \}, where P \subset {\Bbb Z} is a generalised arithmetic progression, and \phi: P \to {\Bbb F}_2^{\omega} obeys the Freiman isomorphism property (n_1,\phi(n_1)) \cdot (n_2, \phi(n_2)) = (n_3,\phi(n_3)) \cdot (n_4,\phi(n_4)) whenever n_1,n_2,n_3,n_4 \in P and n_1+n_2=n_3+n_4.

This result, incidentally, recovers an earlier result of Lindenstrauss that the lamplighter group does not contain a Følner sequence of sets of uniformly bounded doubling.  It is a good exercise to establish the “exact” version of this theorem, in which one classifies subgroups of the lamplighter group rather than sets of small doubling; indeed, the proof of this the above theorem follows fairly closely the natural proof of the exact version.

One application of the solvable Freiman theorem is the following quantitative version of a classical result of Milnor and of Wolf, which asserts that any solvable group of polynomial growth is virtually nilpotent:

Theorem 2. (Quantitative Milnor-Wolf theorem) Let G be a solvable group of derived length O(1), let S be a set of generators for G, and suppose one has the polynomial growth condition |B_S(R)| \leq R^d for some d = O(1), where B_S(R) is the set of all words generated by S of length at most R.  If R is sufficiently large, then this implies that G is virtually nilpotent; more precisely, G contains a nilpotent subgroup of step O(1) and index O(R^{O(1)}).

The key points here are that one only needs polynomial growth at a single scale R, rather than on many scales, and that the index of the nilpotent subgroup has polynomial size.

The proofs are based on an induction on the derived length.  After some standard manipulations (basically, splitting A by an approximate version of a short exact sequence), the problem boils down to that of understanding the action \rho of some finite set A on a set E in an additive group.  If one assumes that E has small doubling and that the action of A leaves E approximately invariant, then one can show that E is a coset progression, and the action of A can be described efficiently using the generators of that progression (after refining the set A a bit).

In the course of the proof we need two new additive combinatorial results which may be of independent interest.  The first is a variant of a well-known theorem of Sárközy, which asserts that if A is a large subset of an arithmetic progression P, then an iterated sumset kA of A for some k=O(1) itself contains a long arithmetic progression. Here, we need the related fact that if A is a large subset of a coset progression, then an iterated subset kA for k=O(1) contains a large coset progression Q, and furthermore this inclusion is “robust” in the sense that all elements the elements of Q have a large number of representations as sums of elements of A.  We also need a new (non-commutative) variant of the Balog-Szemerédi(-Gowers) lemma, which asserts that if A has small doubling, then A (or more precisely A \cdot A^{-1}) contains a large “core” subset D such that almost all of a large iterated subset kD of D still lies inside A \cdot A^{-1}).  (This may not look like the usual Balog-Szemerédi lemma, but the proof of the lemma is almost identical to the original proof of Balog and Szemerédi, in particular relying on the Szemerédi regularity lemma.