# The fundamental group of the Hawaiian earring is not free (International Journal of Algebra and Computation Vol. 2, No. 1 (1992), 33 37) Bart de Smit

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1 The fundamental group of the Hawaiian earring is not free Bart de Smit The fundamental group of the Hawaiian earring is not free (International Journal of Algebra and Computation Vol. 2, No. 1 (1992), 33 37) Bart de Smit Department of Mathematics University of California Berkeley, CA Abstract. The Hawaiian earring is a topological space which is a countably infinite union of circles, that are all tangent to a single line at the same point, and whose radii tend to zero. In this note a short proof is given of a result of J.W. Morgan and I. Morrison that describes the fundamental group of this space. It is also shown that this fundamental group is not a free group, unlike the fundamental group of a wedge of an arbitrary number of circles. Key words: Fundamental groups, Van Kampens theorem, free groups, projective limits Mathematics subject classification (1985): 20E05, 20F34, 57M Introduction. For each positive integer n, let C n C be the the circle {z C : z 1 n = 1 n }. The union n=1 C n is a topological space H C called the Hawaiian earring. On a homework assignment to an algebraic topology course, M.W. Hirsch asked whether the fundamental group π 1 (H) of H with base-point 0 is a free group. In the following an algebraic description of π 1 (H) is given, and it is shown that it is torsion free, but not free. In a wedge X of an arbitrary number of circles each loop can only go around finitely many circles, because a loop has a compact image, and consequently the fundamental group of X is free on the obvious generators. In the case of the Hawaiian earring however, we have a coarser topology admitting more loops. For instance, let f : [0, 1] H be a loop that goes around C 1 on the middle third part of the unit interval, around C 2 on the middle third part of each of the remaining intervals, etcetera. This defines f as a map [0, 1] H, and f is continuous because any open neighborhood of 0 in H contains all C i with i sufficiently large. Note that f 1 (0) is the Cantor set in the unit interval. The results in this note are not new, but the proofs are. The algebraic description of the group π 1 (H) was first given in [1], but more recently J.W. Morgan and I. Morrison found a flaw, and published an alternative proof (see [4]). In the purely group-theoretical paper [2, section 6], G. Higman mentions the same group, and shows that it is not free. A different argument, suggested by H.W. Lenstra, Jr., will be given for this in section 3. 1

2 [3]. For more background on free groups, free products and reduced words, we refer to 2. An algebraic description. The space H n = n i=1 C n is a wedge of n circles, and it follows from Van Kampen s theorem that the fundamental group π 1 (H n ) is a free group on n generators l 1,..., l n, where l i is the homotopy class of a loop that wraps around C i once (so l i is a generator of π 1 (C i )). For each n 0 we have a retraction H H n collapsing the loops C i with i > n to 0. Therefore we may view F n as a subgroup of π 1 (H), and the retraction induces a map from π 1 (H) to F n The restricted retractions H n H n 1 induce group homomorphisms F n F n 1 fixing l i for i < n, and mapping l n to 1. The groups F n form a projective system of groups, and we get a canonical group homomorphism ϕ : π 1 (H) F = lim F n. n 1 Recall that the projective limit F is the subgroup of the product i=1 F i consisting of those elements (f i ) i for which the map F i F i 1 sends f i to f i 1 for all i > 1. We will write down elements of F by specifying each coordinate. It will turn out that ϕ maps π 1 (H) isomorphically to a subgroup π of F which can be roughly described as the subgroup consisting of the elements (f i ) i F for which the following condition holds for each j 1: the number of times that l j occurs in the reduced word representation of f i is a bounded function of i. For a more precise formulation, define the j-weight w j (x) of an element x F i as follows: first write x as a reduced word x = g(1) a 1 g(2) a2 g(s) a s, where each a k is a non-zero integer and g a map {1, 2,..., s} {l 1, l 2,..., l i } with g(k) g(k + 1) for any k. Now put w j (x) = g(k)=l j a k. Note that w j (x) is well defined as the representation of x as a reduced word is unique. Now let π be the subgroup of F consisting of all elements (x i ) i F such that for every j Z 1 the function Z 1 Z defined by i w j (x i ) is bounded. For j > 0 define F j = {(x i ) i F : w k (x i ) = 0 for all i and all k < j}, and put π j = π F j. The next lemma will turn out to be an instance of the Van Kampen theorem, once we know that π is π 1 (H), but at this point we have to prove it by group-theoretic means. Lemma. The group π is the free sum F j 1 π j of its subgroups F j 1 and π j. 2

3 Proof. The subgroup of π generated by F j 1 and π j is their free sum because of the unique reduced word representation in the free groups F i. If x = (x i ) i F then the condition x π implies that the number of occurrences of elements of F j 1 in the reduced representation of x i is a bounded function of i. Again by uniqueness of the reduced word representation, it follows that x is a finite product of elements of F j 1 and of π j. Proposition. The image of the homomorphism ϕ : π 1 (H) F is π. Proof. Let f : [0, 1] H be a loop at 0. By Van Kampens theorem, π 1 (H) = F 1 π 1 (C 2 ), where C 2 = n 2 C n. So after a homotopy, we may assume that f is a composition of loops f 0 e 1 f 1 e s f s where the e i are loops in C 1 and the f i are loops in C 2 = n 2 C n. We have w 1 (ϕ(f i )) = 0 and for n > 1 this implies w 1 (ϕ(f) n ) s i=1 w 1(ϕ(e i )), which is a bounded function of n. Repeating the same argument shows that for every i the function w 2 (ϕ(f i ) n ) of n is bounded, so that w 2 (ϕ(f) n ) is also bounded. Using induction we obtain that ϕ(f) π, so the image of ϕ lies in π. Now let x = (x i ) i π. We will construct a loop f : [0, 1] H such that the homotopy class of f is mapped to x by ϕ. By the lemma we can write x as y 0 e 1 y 1 e 2 y 2 e s y s with e i {l 1, l1 1 } and y i π 1. Accordingly, we divide the unit i interval in 2s + 1 intervals I i = [ 2s+1, i+1 2s+1 ] where 0 i 2s, and define a map f 1 : [0, 1] H to be zero on the intervals I 2i, and to go around C 1 in the appropriate direction on the interval I 2i 1, so that the homotopy class of the loop f 1 I 2i 1 is e i for i = 1, 2,..., s. Next we break up each y i π 2 into elements l ±1 2 and elements of π 3, and divide the interval I 2i accordingly. Then we define a map f 2, that only differs from f 1 on subintervals of I 2i, where it gives the l 2 -pattern in y i. This way we get a uniformly convergent sequence f 1, f 2,... of loops in H, so they converge to a continuous loop f in H. As the image of ϕ(f) in F n is x n, it follows that ϕ(f) = x. Proposition. The canonical map ϕ : π 1 (H) F is injective. Proof. Let f : [0, 1] H be a loop, whose image in F is 1. We want to construct nullhomotopy for f, i.e., a homotopy of f with the constant loop. As in the previous proof, we first homotop f to a composition of loops f 0 e 1 f 1 e s f s where the e i are loops in C 1 and the f i are loops in C 2. Then ϕ(f i ) π 2 and ϕ(e i ) F 1, and since ϕ(f) = 1, the word ϕ(f 0 )ϕ(e 1 )ϕ(f 1 ) ϕ(e s )ϕ(f s ) in the free sum F 1 π 2 can be reduced to 1. We can now make a null-homotopy for f by following the cancellation steps to reduce this word to 1, provided that we can find a homotopy to the constant loop for loops in C 2 that are in the kernel of ϕ. In other words we can define the homotopy on 3

4 part of [0, 1] [0, 1], and on the remaining parts we still need to fill in a null-homotopy for certain loops in C 2 that we know to be null-homotopic. But to construct such a homotopy we follow the same procedure to obtain a word in π 1 (C 2 ) π 3 that can be reduced to 1, etcetera. Taking the union of the sequence of partial homotopies obtained by this inductive procedure, we obtain the required null-homotopy for f. Since F is torsion free, this shows that π 1 (H) is torsion free. 3. Proof that the fundamental group is not free. In this section, a group-theoretical proof is given that π is not free. First note that π is uncountable. An uncountable free group F is free on uncountably many generators, and therefore Hom(F, Z) is uncountable. So it suffices to show that Hom(π, Z) is countable. We start with a lemma. Lemma. For each positive integer j let x (j) = (x (j) i ) i be an element of F such that = 1 for all i < j. Then there is a homomorphism f : F F sending l j to x (j) for x (j) i all j. If x (j) π j for all j, then f(π) π. Proof. As F n is a free group on l 1,..., l n, there are unique group homomorphisms f n : F n F n sending l j to x (j) n for j n. As we have x (j) i = 1 for i < j, we have a commutative diagram: F 1 F 2 F 3 F 1 F 2 F 3 This induces a homomorphism f : F F of the projective limits, that satisfies the conditions. Now suppose y = (y i ) i F and fix k 1 then w k (f(y) n ) = w k (f n (y n )) n w j (y n )w k (f n (l j )) = j=1 n j=1 w j (y n )w k (x (j) n ). If x (j) π j for each j, then the terms with j > k on the right hand side vanish. If in addition y π then the remaining k terms are all bounded functions of n, so that w k (f(y) n ) is a bounded function of n and f(y) π. This shows the last statement. Proposition. Let f be a homomorphism from π to Z. Then f(l i ) = 0 for all sufficiently large i. Proof. Suppose that f(l i1 ), f(l i2 ),... are non-zero for some i 1 < i 2 <. By the lemma there is a homomorphism g : π π mapping l j to l ±3 i j where the sign in the exponent is chosen to be the sign of f(l ij ). By replacing f by f g we may now assume that f(l i ) 3. Put a i = f(l i ). 4

5 For every j 1 define the element x (j) = (x (j) i ) i π by x (j) i =1 if i < j, and for i j: x (j) i = l j (l j+1 ( (l i 1 l a i 1 i ) a i 2 ) a j+1 ) a j. The integer f(x (1) ) now satisfies congruence conditions that are too strong to hold for any integer. First note that x (j) = l j (x (j+1) ) a j, so f(x (j) ) = a j +a j f(x (j+1) ). If follows that f(x (1) ) = a 1 + a 1 a a 1 a 2 a n + a 1 a 2 a n f(x (n) ). Put b n = a 1 +a 1 a 2 + +a 1 a 2 a n 1 and c n = a 1 a 2 a n, then f(x (1) ) b n mod c n. Now b n < c n and b n tends to infinity. If f(x (1) ) 0 then f(x (1) ) b n for all n, which is a contradiction. If f(x (1) ) < 0, then f(x (1) ) b n c n, and we get a contradiction too, because it follows from the fact that a i 3 that c n b n also tends to infinity. Proposition. Let g be a homomorphism from π to Z such that g(l i ) = 0 for all i. Then g = 0. Proof. Suppose that g(x) 0 for some x π, then we can write x = f 1 y 1 f 2 y 2 f s y s with f i F j 1 and y i π j. Now put x j = y 1 y 2 y s, then g(x j ) = g(x) 0 as g(f i ) = 0 for i = 1,..., s. By the lemma there is a homomorphism π π mapping l j to x j. Composing with g, we get a homomorphism π Z mapping all l i to non-zero integers, contradicting the previous proposition. These two propositions imply that the homomorphism Hom(π, Z) i 1 Z that sends a homomorphism g to the tuple (g(l 1 ), g(l 2 ),...), maps the group Hom(π, Z) injectively to i 1 Z, which is countable. This concludes the proof that π is not free. As subgroups of free groups are free, this implies that the projective limit F of free groups can not be free either. This can also be shown by replacing π with F is the above proof, with a slight adaptation in the proof of the last proposition (cf. [2]). It follows from the proof that all homomorphisms from π to Z factor over F n for some n (in other words, all algebraic homomorphism are continuous if we give Z and F n the discrete topology and π the induced topology from n 1 F n). Again, the same is true with F instead of π. The first homology group of the Hawaiian earring (the abelianized group π ab ) is uncountable too, and as it has the same group of homomorphisms to Z as π, the proof also implies that π ab is not free abelian. 5

6 References. [1] H.B. Griffiths, Infinite products of semigroups and local connectivity, Proc. London Math. Soc. (3), 6 (1956), pp [2] G. Higman, Unrestricted free products and varieties of topological groups, J. London Math. Soc. (2), 27 (1952), pp [3] R.C. Lyndon and P.E. Schupp, Combinatorial group theory, Ergeb. Math. Grenzgeb. (2), vol. 89, Springer-Verlag, [4] J.W. Morgan and I. Morrison, A van Kampen theorem for weak joins, Proc. London Math. Soc. (3), 53 (1986), pp

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