# 15. Symmetric polynomials

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1 15. Symmetric polynomials 15.1 The theorem 15.2 First examples 15.3 A variant: discriminants 1. The theorem Let S n be the group of permutations of {1,, n}, also called the symmetric group on n things. For indeterminates x i, let p S n act on Z[x 1,, x n ] by p(x i ) = x p(i) A polynomial f(x 1,, x n ) Z[x 1,, x n ] is invariant under S n if for all p S n f(p(x 1 ),, p(x n )) = f(x 1,, x n ) The elementary symmetric polynomials in x 1,, x n are s 1 = s 1 (x 1,, x n ) = i x i s 2 = s 2 (x 1,, x n ) = i<j x ix j s 3 = s 3 (x 1,, x n ) = i<j<k x ix j x k s 4 = s 4 (x 1,, x n ) = i<j<k<l x ix j x k x l s t = s t (x 1,, x n ) = i 1<i 2<...<i t x i1 x i2 x it s n = s n (x 1,, x n ) = x 1 x 2 x 3 x n [1.0.1] Theorem: A polynomial f(x 1,, x n ) Z[x 1,, x n ] is invariant under S n if and only if it is a polynomial in the elementary symmetric functions s 1,, s n. [1.0.2] Remark: In fact, the proof shows an algorithm which determines the expression for a given S n -invariant polynomial in terms of the elementary ones. 213

2 214 Symmetric polynomials Proof: Let f(x 1,, x n ) be S n -invariant. Let be the map which kills off x n, that is If f(x 1,, x n ) is S n -invariant, then q : Z[x 1,, x n 1, x n ] Z[x 1,, x n 1 ] q(x i ) = { xi (1 i < n) 0 (i = n) q(f(x 1,, x n 1, x n )) = f(x 1,, x n 1, 0) is S n 1 -invariant, where we take the copy of S n 1 inside S n that fixes n. And note that q(s i (x 1,, x n )) = { si (x 1,, x n 1 ) (1 i < n) 0 (i = n) By induction on the number of variables, there is a polynomial P in n 1 variables such that q(f(x 1,, x n )) = P (s 1 (x 1,, x n 1 ),, s n 1 (x 1,, x n 1 )) Now use the same polynomial P but with the elementary symmetric functions augmented by insertion of x n, by g(x 1,, x n ) = P (s 1 (x 1,, x n ),, s n 1 (x 1,, x n )) By the way P was chosen, q(f(x 1,, x n ) g(x 1,, x n )) = 0 That is, mapping x n 0 sends the difference f g to 0. Using the unique factorization in Z[x 1,, x n ], this implies that x n divides f g. The S n -invariance of f g implies that every x i divides f g. That is, by unique factorization, s n (x 1,, x n ) divides f g. The total degree of a monomial c x e1 1 xen n is the sum of the exponents total degree (c x e1 1 xen n ) = e e n The total degree of a polynomial is the maximum of the total degrees of its monomial summands. Consider the polynomial f g = f(x 1,, x n ) g(x 1,, x n ) s n s n (x 1,, x n ) It is of lower total degree than the original f. By induction on total degree (f g)/s n is expressible in terms of the elementary symmetric polynomials in x 1,, x n. /// [1.0.3] Remark: The proof also shows that if the total degree of an S n -invariant polynomial f(x 1,, x n 1, x n ) in n variables is less than or equal the number of variables, then the expression for f(x 1,, x n 1, 0) in terms of s i (x 1,, x n 1 ) gives the correct formula in terms of s i (x 1,, x n 1, x n ). 2. First examples [2.0.1] Example: Consider f(x 1,, x n ) = x x 2 n

3 Garrett: Abstract Algebra 215 The induction on n and the previous remark indicate that the general formula will be found if we find the formula for n = 2, since the total degree is 2. Let q : Z[x, y] Z[x] be the Z-algebra map sending x x and y 0. Then q(x 2 + y 2 ) = x 2 = s 1 (x) 2 Then, following the procedure of the proof of the theorem, (x 2 + y 2 ) s 1 (x, y) 2 = (x 2 + y 2 ) (x + y) 2 = 2xy Dividing by s 2 (x, y) = xy we obtain 2. (This is visible, anyway.) Thus, The induction on the number of variables gives x 2 + y 2 = s 1 (x, y) 2 2s 2 (x, y) x x 2 n = s 1 (x 1,, x n ) 2 s 2 (x 1,, x n ) [2.0.2] Example: Consider f(x 1,, x n ) = i x 4 i Since the total degree is 4, as in the remark just above it suffices to determine the pattern with just 4 variables x 1, x 2, x 3, x 4. Indeed, we start with just 2 variables. Following the procedure indicated in the theorem, letting q be the Z-algebra homomorphism which sends y to 0, so consider q(x 4 + y 4 ) = x 4 = s 1 (x) 4 (x 4 + y 4 ) s 1 (x, y) 4 = 4x 3 y 6x 2 y 2 4xy 3 = s 1 (x, y) (4x 2 + 6xy + 4y 2 ) The latter factor of lower total degree is analyzed in the same fashion: so consider Going backward, Passing to three variables, so consider q(4x 2 + 6xy + 4y 2 ) = 4x 2 = 4s 1 (x) 2 (4x 2 + 6xy + 4y 2 ) 4s 1 (x, y) 2 = 2xy x 4 + y 4 = s 1 (x, y) 4 s 1 (x, y) (4s 1 (x, y) 2 2s 2 (x, y)) q(x 4 + y 4 + z 4 ) = x 4 + y 4 = s 1 (x, y) 4 s 1 (x, y) (4s 1 (x, y) 2 2s 2 (x, y)) (x 4 + y 4 + z 4 ) ( s 1 (x, y, z) 4 s 1 (x, y, z) (4s 1 (x, y, z) 2 2s 2 (x, y, z)) ) Before expanding this, dreading the 15 terms from the (x + y + z) 4, for example, recall that the only terms which will not be cancelled are those which involve all of x, y, z. Thus, this is 12x 2 yz 12y 2 xz 12z 2 xy + (xy + yz + zx) (4(x + y + z) 2 2(xy + yz + zx)) + (irrelevant) = 12x 2 yz 12y 2 xz 12z 2 xy + (xy + yz + zx) (4x 2 + 4y 2 + 4z 2 + 6xy + 6yz + 6zx) + (irrelevant) = 12x 2 yz 12y 2 xz 12z 2 xy + 4xyz 2 + 4yzx 2 + 4zxy 2 + 6xy 2 z + 6x 2 yz + 6x 2 yz + 6xyz 2 + 6xy 2 z + 6xyz 2

4 216 Symmetric polynomials Thus, with 3 variables, = 4xyz(x + y + z) = 4s 3 (x, y, z) s 1 (x, y, z) x 4 + y 4 + z 4 = s 1 (x, y, z) 4 s 2 (x, y, z) (4s 1 (x, y, z) 2 2s 2 (x, y, z)) + 4s 3 (x, y, z) s 1 (x, y, z) Abbreviating s i = s i (x, y, z, w), we anticipate that x 4 + y 4 + z 4 + w 4 ( s 4 1 4s 2 1s 2 + 2s s 1 s 3 ) = constant xyzw We can save a little time by evaluating the constant by taking x = y = z = w = 1. In that case and or Thus, s 1 (1, 1, 1, 1) = 4 s 2 (1, 1, 1, 1) = 6 s 3 (1, 1, 1, 1) = ( ) = constant constant = 4 ( ) = 4 x 4 + y 4 + z 4 + w 4 = s 4 1 4s 2 1s 2 + 2s s 1 s 3 4s 4 By the remark above, since the total degree is just 4, this shows that for arbitrary n x x 4 n = s 4 1 4s 2 1s 2 + 2s s 1 s 3 4s 4

5 Garrett: Abstract Algebra A variant: discriminants Let x 1,, x n be indeterminates. Their discriminant is D = D(x 1,, x n ) = (x i x j ) i<j Certainly the sign of D depends on the ordering of the indeterminates. But D 2 = i j (x i x j ) 2 is symmetric, that is, is invariant under all permutations of the x i. Therefore, D 2 has an expression in terms of the elementary symmetric functions of the x i. [3.0.1] Remark: By contrast to the previous low-degree examples, the discriminant (squared) has as high a degree as possible. [3.0.2] Example: With just 2 indeterminates x, y, we have the familiar D 2 = (x y) 2 = x 2 2xy + y 2 = (x + y) 2 4xy = s 2 1 4s 2 Rather than compute the general version in higher-degree cases, let s consider a more accessible variation on the question. Suppose that α 1,, α n are roots of an equation X n + ax + b = 0 in a field k, with a, b k. For simplicity suppose a 0 and b 0, since otherwise we have even simpler methods to study this equation. Let f(x) = x n + ax + b. The discriminant D(α 1,, α n ) = i<j (α i α j ) vanishes if and only if any two of the α i coincide. On the other hand, f(x) has a repeated factor in k[x] if and only if gcd(f, f ) 1. Because of the sparseness of this polynomial, we can in effect execute the Euclidean algorithm explicitly. Assume that the characteristic of k does not divide n(n 1). Then (X n + ax + b) X n (nxn 1 + a) = a(1 1 n )X + b That is, any repeated factor of f(x) divides X + (n 1)a, and the latter linear factor divides f (X). Continuing, the remainder upon dividing nx n 1 + a by the linear factor X + is simply the value of nx n 1 + a obtained by evaluating at bn (n 1)a, namely bn bn (n 1)a ( ) n 1 bn n + a = ( n n ( 1) n 1 b n 1 + (n 1) n 1 a n) ((n 1)a) 1 n (n 1)a Thus, (constraining a to be non-zero) if and only if some α i α j = 0. n n ( 1) n 1 b n 1 + (n 1) n 1 a n = 0

6 218 Symmetric polynomials We obviously want to say that with the constraint that all the symmetric functions of the α i being 0 except the last two, we have computed the discriminant (up to a less interesting constant factor). A relatively graceful approach would be to show that R = Z[x 1,, x n ] admits a universal Z-algebra homomorphism ϕ : R Ω for some ring Ω that sends the first n 2 elementary symmetric functions s 1 = s 1 (x 1,, x n ) = i x i s 2 = s 2 (x 1,, x n ) = i<j x i x j s 3 = s 3 (x 1,, x n ) = i<j<k x i x j x k s l = s l (x 1,, x n ) = i 1<...<i l x i1 x il s n 2 = s n 2 (x 1,, x n ) = i 1<...<i n 2 x i1 x in 2 to 0, but imposes no unnecessary further relations on the images a = ( 1) n 1 ϕ(s n 1 ) b = ( 1) n ϕ(s n ) We do not have sufficient apparatus to do this nicely at this moment. [1] above does tell us something. Nevertheless, the computation Exercises 15.[3.0.1] Express x x x 3 n in terms of the elementary symmetric polynomials. 15.[3.0.2] Express i j x i x 2 j in terms of the elementary symmetric polynomials. 15.[3.0.3] Let α, β be the roots of a quadratic equation ax 2 + bx + c = 0, Show that the discriminant, defined to be (α β) 2, is b 2 4ac. 15.[3.0.4] Consider f(x) = x 3 + ax + b as a polynomial with coefficients in k(a, b) where k is a field not of characteristic 2 or 3. By computing the greatest common divisor of f and f, give a condition for the roots of f(x) = 0 to be distinct. 15.[3.0.5] Express i,j,k distinct x i x j x 2 k in terms of elementary symmetric polynomials. [1] The key point is that Z[x 1,, x n] is integral over Z[s 1, s 2,, s n] in the sense that each x i is a root of the monic equation X n s 1 X n 2 + s 2 X n 2 + ( 1) n 1 s n 1 X + ( 1) n s n = 0 It is true that for R an integral extension of a ring S, any homomorphism ϕ o : S Ω to an algebraically closed field Ω extends (probably in more than one way) to a homomorphism ϕ : R Ω. This would give us a justification for our hope that, given a, b Ω we can require that ϕ o(s 1 ) = ϕ o(s 2 ) = = ϕ o(s n 2 ) = 0 while ϕ o(s n 1 ) = ( 1) n 1 a ϕ o(s n) = ( 1) n b.

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