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I’ve just opened the research thread for the mini-polymath4 project over at the polymath blog to collaboratively solve one of the six questions from this year’s IMO. This year I have selected Q3, which is a somewhat intricate game-theoretic question. (The full list of questions this year may be found here.)

This post will serve as the discussion thread of the project, intended to focus all the non-research aspects of the project such as organisational matters or commentary on the progress of the project. The third component of the project is the wiki page, which is intended to summarise the progress made so far on the problem.

As with the previous mini-polymath projects, I myself will be serving primarily as a moderator, and hope other participants will take the lead in the research and in keeping the wiki up-to-date.

Just a reminder that the mini-polymath4 project will begin in three hours at Thu July 12 2012 UTC 22:00.

Two quick updates with regards to polymath projects. Firstly, given the poll on starting the mini-polymath4 project, I will start the project at Thu July 12 2012 UTC 22:00. As usual, the main research thread on this project will be held at the polymath blog, with the discussion thread hosted separately on this blog.

Second, the Polymath7 project, which seeks to establish the “hot spots conjecture” for acute-angled triangles, has made a fair amount of progress so far; for instance, the first part of the conjecture (asserting that the second Neumann eigenfunction of an acute non-equilateral triangle is simple) is now solved, and the second part (asserting that the “hot spots” (i.e. extrema) of that second eigenfunction lie on the boundary of the triangle) has been solved in a number of special cases (such as the isosceles case). It’s been quite an active discussion in the last week or so, with almost 200 comments across two threads (and a third thread freshly opened up just now). While the problem is still not completely solved, I feel optimistic that it should fall within the next few weeks (if nothing else, it seems that the problem is now at least amenable to a brute force numerical attack, though personally I would prefer to see a more conceptual solution).

Two polymath related items for this post. Firstly, there is a new polymath proposal over at the polymath blog, proposing to attack the “hot spots conjecture” (concerning a maximum principle for a heat equation) in the case when the domain is an acute-angled triangle (the case of the right and obtuse-angled triangles already being solved). Please feel free to comment on the proposal blog post if you are interested in participating.

Secondly, it is once again time to set up the annual “mini-polymath” project to collaboratively solve one of this year’s International Mathematical Olympiad problems. This year, the Olympiad is being held in Argentina, with the problems given out on July 10-11. As usual, there will be a wiki page, discussion thread, and research thread for the project. As in previous years, the first thing to resolve is the starting date and time, so I am setting up a poll here to fix a time (and also to get a preliminary indication of interest in the project). (I am using 24-hour Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) for these times. Here is a link that converts the first time given in the poll (Thu Jul 12 2012 UTC 6:00) into other time zones.) Given that the last three mini-polymaths were reasonably successful, I am not planning any changes to the format, but of course if there are any suggestions for changes, I’d be happy to hear them in the comments.

In the Winter quarter (starting on January 9), I will be teaching a graduate course on expansion in groups of Lie type. This course will focus on constructions of expanding Cayley graphs on finite groups of Lie type (such as the special linear groups , or their simple quotients , but also including more exotic “twisted” groups of Lie type, such as the Steinberg or Suzuki-Ree groups), including the “classical” constructions of Margulis and of Selberg, but also the more recent constructions of Bourgain-Gamburd and later authors (including some very recent work of Ben Green, Emmanuel Breuillard, Rob Guralnick, and myself which is nearing completion and which I plan to post about shortly). As usual, I plan to start posting lecture notes on this blog before the course begins.

This fall (starting Monday, September 26), I will be teaching a graduate topics course which I have entitled “Hilbert’s fifth problem and related topics.” The course is going to focus on three related topics:

- Hilbert’s fifth problem on the topological description of Lie groups, as well as the closely related (local) classification of locally compact groups (the Gleason-Yamabe theorem).
- Approximate groups in nonabelian groups, and their classification via the Gleason-Yamabe theorem (this is very recent work of Emmanuel Breuillard, Ben Green, Tom Sanders, and myself, building upon earlier work of Hrushovski);
- Gromov’s theorem on groups of polynomial growth, as proven via the classification of approximate groups (as well as some consequences to fundamental groups of Riemannian manifolds).

I have already blogged about these topics repeatedly in the past (particularly with regard to Hilbert’s fifth problem), and I intend to recycle some of that material in the lecture notes for this course.

The above three families of results exemplify two broad principles (part of what I like to call “the dichotomy between structure and randomness“):

- (Rigidity) If a group-like object exhibits a weak amount of regularity, then it (or a large portion thereof) often automatically exhibits a strong amount of regularity as well;
- (Structure) This strong regularity manifests itself either as Lie type structure (in continuous settings) or nilpotent type structure (in discrete settings). (In some cases, “nilpotent” should be replaced by sister properties such as “abelian“, “solvable“, or “polycyclic“.)

Let me illustrate what I mean by these two principles with two simple examples, one in the continuous setting and one in the discrete setting. We begin with a continuous example. Given an complex matrix , define the matrix exponential of by the formula

which can easily be verified to be an absolutely convergent series.

Exercise 1Show that the map is a real analytic (and even complex analytic) map from to , and obeys the restricted homomorphism property

Proposition 1 (Rigidity and structure of matrix homomorphisms)Let be a natural number. Let be the group of invertible complex matrices. Let be a map obeying two properties:

- (Group-like object) is a homomorphism, thus for all .
- (Weak regularity) The map is continuous.
Then:

- (Strong regularity) The map is smooth (i.e. infinitely differentiable). In fact it is even real analytic.
- (Lie-type structure) There exists a (unique) complex matrix such that for all .

*Proof:* Let be as above. Let be a small number (depending only on ). By the homomorphism property, (where we use here to denote the identity element of ), and so by continuity we may find a small such that for all (we use some arbitrary norm here on the space of matrices, and allow implied constants in the notation to depend on ).

The map is real analytic and (by the inverse function theorem) is a diffeomorphism near . Thus, by the inverse function theorem, we can (if is small enough) find a matrix of size such that . By the homomorphism property and (1), we thus have

On the other hand, by another application of the inverse function theorem we see that the squaring map is a diffeomorphism near in , and thus (if is small enough)

We may iterate this argument (for a fixed, but small, value of ) and conclude that

for all . By the homomorphism property and (1) we thus have

whenever is a dyadic rational, i.e. a rational of the form for some integer and natural number . By continuity we thus have

for all real . Setting we conclude that

for all real , which gives existence of the representation and also real analyticity and smoothness. Finally, uniqueness of the representation follows from the identity

Exercise 2Generalise Proposition 1 by replacing the hypothesis that is continuous with the hypothesis that is Lebesgue measurable (Hint:use the Steinhaus theorem.). Show that the proposition fails (assuming the axiom of choice) if this hypothesis is omitted entirely.

Note how one needs both the group-like structure and the weak regularity in combination in order to ensure the strong regularity; neither is sufficient on its own. We will see variants of the above basic argument throughout the course. Here, the task of obtaining smooth (or real analytic structure) was relatively easy, because we could borrow the smooth (or real analytic) structure of the domain and range ; but, somewhat remarkably, we shall see that one can still build such smooth or analytic structures even when none of the original objects have any such structure to begin with.

Now we turn to a second illustration of the above principles, namely Jordan’s theorem, which uses a discreteness hypothesis to upgrade Lie type structure to nilpotent (and in this case, abelian) structure. We shall formulate Jordan’s theorem in a slightly stilted fashion in order to emphasise the adherence to the above-mentioned principles.

Theorem 2 (Jordan’s theorem)Let be an object with the following properties:

- (Group-like object) is a group.
- (Discreteness) is finite.
- (Lie-type structure) is contained in (the group of unitary matrices) for some .
Then there is a subgroup of such that

- ( is close to ) The index of in is (i.e. bounded by for some quantity depending only on ).
- (Nilpotent-type structure) is abelian.

A key observation in the proof of Jordan’s theorem is that if two unitary elements are close to the identity, then their commutator is even closer to the identity (in, say, the operator norm ). Indeed, since multiplication on the left or right by unitary elements does not affect the operator norm, we have

and so by the triangle inequality

Now we can prove Jordan’s theorem.

*Proof:* We induct on , the case being trivial. Suppose first that contains a central element which is not a multiple of the identity. Then, by definition, is contained in the centraliser of , which by the spectral theorem is isomorphic to a product of smaller unitary groups. Projecting to each of these factor groups and applying the induction hypothesis, we obtain the claim.

Thus we may assume that contains no central elements other than multiples of the identity. Now pick a small (one could take in fact) and consider the subgroup of generated by those elements of that are within of the identity (in the operator norm). By considering a maximal -net of we see that has index at most in . By arguing as before, we may assume that has no central elements other than multiples of the identity.

If consists only of multiples of the identity, then we are done. If not, take an element of that is not a multiple of the identity, and which is as close as possible to the identity (here is where we crucially use that is finite). By (2), we see that if is sufficiently small depending on , and if is one of the generators of , then lies in and is closer to the identity than , and is thus a multiple of the identity. On the other hand, has determinant . Given that it is so close to the identity, it must therefore be the identity (if is small enough). In other words, is central in , and is thus a multiple of the identity. But this contradicts the hypothesis that there are no central elements other than multiples of the identity, and we are done.

Commutator estimates such as (2) will play a fundamental role in many of the arguments we will see in this course; as we saw above, such estimates combine very well with a discreteness hypothesis, but will also be very useful in the continuous setting.

Exercise 3Generalise Jordan’s theorem to the case when is a finite subgroup of rather than of . (Hint:The elements of are not necessarily unitary, and thus do not necessarily preserve the standard Hilbert inner product of . However, if one averages that inner product by the finite group , one obtains a new inner product on that is preserved by , which allows one to conjugate to a subgroup of . This averaging trick is (a small) part of Weyl’s unitary trick in representation theory.)

Exercise 4 (Inability to discretise nonabelian Lie groups)Show that if , then the orthogonal group cannot contain arbitrarily dense finite subgroups, in the sense that there exists an depending only on such that for every finite subgroup of , there exists a ball of radius in (with, say, the operator norm metric) that is disjoint from . What happens in the case?

Remark 1More precise classifications of the finite subgroups of are known, particularly in low dimensions. For instance, one can show that the only finite subgroups of (which is a double cover of) are isomorphic to either a cyclic group, a dihedral group, or the symmetry group of one of the Platonic solids.

Just a reminder that the mini-polymath3 project begins in 24 hours, on July 19, 8pm UTC.

I recently finished the first draft of the last of my books based on my 2010 blog posts (and also my Google buzzes), entitled “Compactness and contradiction“. The PDF of this draft is available here. This is a somewhat assorted (and lightly edited) collection of posts (and buzzes), though concentrating in the areas of analysis (both standard and nonstandard), logic, and group theory. As always, comments and corrections are welcome.

Following the results from the recent poll on this blog, the mini-polymath3 project (which will focus on one of the problems from the 2011 IMO) will start at July 19 8pm UTC, and be run concurrently on this blog, on the polymath wiki, and on the polymath blog.

In the last two years, I ran a “mini-polymath” project to solve one of the problems of that year’s International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). This year, the IMO is being held in the Netherlands, with the problems being released on July 18 and 19, and I am planning to once again select a question (most likely the last question Q6, but I’ll exercise my discretion on which problem to select once I see all of them).

The format of the last year’s mini-polymath project seemed to work well, so I am inclined to simply repeat that format without much modification this time around, in order to collect a consistent set of data about these projects. Thus, unles the plan changes, the project will start at a pre-arranged time and date, with plenty of advance notice, and be run simultaneously on three different sites: a “research thread” over at the polymath blog for the problem solving process, a “discussion thread” over at this blog for any meta-discussion about the project, and a wiki page at the polymath wiki to record the progress already made at the research thread. (Incidentally, there is a current discussion at the wiki about the logo for that site; please feel free to chip in your opinion on the various proposed icons.) The project will follow the usual polymath rules (as summarised for instance in the 2010 mini-polymath thread).

There are some kinks with our format that still need to be worked out, unfortunately; the two main ones that keep recurring in previous feedback are (a) there is no way to edit or preview comments without the intervention of one of the blog maintainers, and (b) even with comment threading, it is difficult to keep track of all the multiple discussions going on at once. It is conceivable that we could use a different forum than the WordPress-based blogs we have been using for previous projects for this mini-polymath to experiment with other software that may help ameliorate (a) and (b) (though any alternative site should definitely have the ability to support some sort of TeX, and should be easily accessible by polymath participants, without the need for a cumbersome registration process); if there are any suggestions for such alternatives, I would be happy to hear about them in the comments to this post. (Of course, any other comments germane to the polymath or mini-polymath projects would also be appropriate for the comment thread.)

The other thing to do at this early stage is set up a poll for the start time for the project (and also to gauge interest in participation). For ease of comparison I am going to use the same four-hour time slots as for the 2010 poll. All times are in Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), which is essentially the same as GMT; conversions between UTC and local time zones can for instance be found on this web site. For instance, the Netherlands are at UTC+2, and so July 19 4m UTC (say) would be July 19 6pm in Netherlands local time. (I myself will be at UTC-7.)

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