# THE FUNDAMENTAL THEOREM OF ALGEBRA VIA PROPER MAPS

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1 THE FUNDAMENTAL THEOREM OF ALGEBRA VIA PROPER MAPS KEITH CONRAD 1. Introduction The Fundamental Theorem of Algebra says every nonconstant polynomial with complex coefficients can be factored into linear factors. The original form of this theorem makes no mention of complex polynomials or even complex numbers: it says that in R[x], every nonconstant polynomial can be factored into a product of linear and quadratic factors. (For any polynomial f(x) C[x], the product f(x)f(x) has real coefficients and this permits a passage between the real and complex formulations of the theorem.) That the theorem can be stated without complex numbers doesn t mean it can be proved without complex numbers, and indeed nearly all proofs of the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra make some use of complex numbers, either analytically (e.g., holomorphic functions) or algebraically (e.g., the only quadratic extension field of R is C) or topologically (e.g., GL n (C) is path connected). In the articles [2] and [3], Pukhlikov and Pushkar give proofs of the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra that make absolutely no use of the concept of a complex number. Both articles are in Russian. The purpose of this note is to describe these two proofs in English so they may become more widely known. As motivation for the two proofs, let s consider what it means to say a polynomial can be factored, in terms of the coefficients. To say that every polynomial x 4 +Ax 3 +Bx 2 +Cx+D in R[x] can be written as a product of two monic quadratic polynomials in R[x], so x 4 + Ax 3 + Bx 2 + Cx + D = (x 2 + ax + b)(x 2 + cx + d) = x 4 + (a + c)x 3 + (b + d + ac)x 2 + (ad + bc)x + bd, which amounts to saying that given any four real numbers A, B, C, D there is a real solution (a, b, c, d) to the system of equations A = a + c, B = b + d + ac, C = ad + bc, D = bd. This is a system of four (nonlinear) equations in four unknowns. Factoring a real polynomial of degree greater than 4 into lower-degree real factors involves more complicated constraints on the coefficients than the relations above, but they are also of the same basic flavor: a certain system of polynomial conditions in several real variables must have a real solution. Such systems of equations are not linear, so we can t prove they are solvable using linear algebra, and it may seem too complicated to prove directly that such factorization equations are always solvable. There was one very early proof of the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra, by Lagrange, which reasoned along these lines, although it is hard to argue that Lagrange s proof provides any conceptual insight (take a look at [4] and judge for yourself). The basic idea in the two proofs presented here is to show the factorization constraints are solvable using topology. In the example above, for instance, we should show the map 1

2 2 KEITH CONRAD µ: R 2 R 2 R 4 given by (1.1) µ((a, b), (c, d)) = (a + c, b + d + ac, ad + bc, bd) is surjective. There are theorems in topology that provide sufficient conditions for a continuous map to be surjective, and these theorems will lead to the two real proofs of the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra presented here. In Section 2 we will review proper maps and describe the example of a proper map on polynomials that is common to the two proofs, which are developed separately in Sections 3 and 4. I thank P. Pushkar for his comments on an earlier version of this note. 2. Proper Maps For two topological spaces X and Y, a continuous map f : X Y is called proper when the inverse image of any compact set is compact. Example 2.1. Let f(x) = x d +a d 1 x d 1 + +a 1 x+a 0 be a nonconstant polynomial with real coefficients. It defines a continuous function R R. Let s show it is a proper map. In R, a subset is compact when it is closed and bounded. If K R is compact then f 1 (K) is closed since K is closed and f is continuous. Since f(x) as x, for any closed interval [ R, R] the inverse image f 1 ([ R, R]) is bounded. A compact set, such as K, is in some [ R, R], so f 1 (K) is bounded. Therefore f 1 (K) is closed and bounded, so it is compact. Example 2.2. Let f(z) = z d + a d 1 z d a 1 z + a 0 be a nonconstant polynomial with complex coefficients. It defines a continuous function C C. Since f(z) as z, by the same argument as in the previous example f is a proper map. Example 2.3. In contrast to the previous examples, polynomials in several variables need not be proper. The function f : R 2 R given by f(x, y) = xy is not proper since {0} is compact but f 1 (0) is the two coordinate axes, which is not compact. Similarly, the sine function sin: R R is not proper since sin 1 (0) = πz is not compact. Example 2.4. If X is compact and Y is Hausdorff then any continuous map from X to Y is proper because a compact subset of a Hausdorff space is closed and a closed subset of a compact space is compact. In particular, all continuous mappings from one compact Hausdorff space to another are proper. This will be important for us later. Remark 2.5. If X and Y are noncompact locally compact Hausdorff spaces and X {x } and Y {y } are the one-point compactifications of X and Y, a continuous function f : X Y is proper when its extension f : X {x } Y { } given by f(x ) = y is continuous, so proper maps X Y can be thought of as continuous functions that send large values to large values. We can see from this point of view why the functions f(x, y) = xy and f(x) = sin x are not proper. Here is the principal property we need about proper maps. Theorem 2.6. If X and Y are locally compact Hausdorff spaces, then any proper map f : X Y has a closed image. Proof. First we give a sequence proof, which doesn t apply to general locally compact Hausdorff spaces but is valid for metrizable spaces, which will include the spaces we care about. Let {y n } be a sequence in f(x) and assume y n y Y. We want to show y f(x). Let K be a compact neighborhood of y. Then y n K for n 0. Write y n = f(x n ), so x n f 1 (K) for n 0. Since f 1 (K) is compact, there is a convergent subsequence {x ni },

3 THE FUNDAMENTAL THEOREM OF ALGEBRA VIA PROPER MAPS 3 say x ni x f 1 (K). Since f is continuous, f(x ni ) f(x), so y ni f(x). Since also y ni y, we get y = f(x) f(x). Next we give a general proof of the theorem, which will be quite different from the sequence proof. Let K be compact in Y. Then f(x) K = f(f 1 (K)), which is compact in Y since f is proper. In a locally compact Hausdorff space, a subset that meets each compact set in a compact set is a closed subset. Therefore f(x) is closed. Remark 2.7. In the notation of Theorem 2.6, if C is closed in X then f C : C Y is proper and (f C )(C) = f(c), so Theorem 2.6 implies f(c) is closed. That is, a proper map between locally compact Hausdorff spaces is a closed map. Lemma 2.8. If f : X Y is a proper map and B is any subset of Y then the restriction of f to a map f 1 (B) B is proper. Proof. If K B is compact then f 1 (K) f 1 (B) = f 1 (K) is compact. Lemma 2.8 provides a method of showing a continuous function between non-compact spaces is proper: embed the non-compact spaces into compact spaces, check the original continuous function extends to a continuous function on the chosen compactification (where Example 2.4 might be used), and then return to the original function with Lemma 2.8. Although polynomials in R[x] define proper maps from R to R, this is not the way we will be using proper maps. We are going to use multiplication maps between spaces of polynomials with a fixed degree. For each positive integer d, let P d be the space of monic polynomials of degree d: (2.1) x d + a d 1 x d a 1 x + a 0. For n 2 and 1 k n 1, define the multiplication map µ k : P k P n k P n by µ k (g, h) = gh. For example, taking n = 4, µ 1 : P 1 P 3 P 4 by µ 1 (x + a 0, x 3 + b 2 x 2 + b 1 x + b 0 ) = x 4 + (b 2 + a 0 )x 3 + (b 1 + a 0 b 2 )x 2 + (b 0 + a 0 b 1 )x + a 0 b 0. and µ 2 : P 2 P 2 P 4 by µ 2 (x 2 +a 1 x+a 0, x 2 +b 1 x+b 0 ) = x 4 +(a 1 +b 1 )x 3 +(a 0 +b 0 +a 1 b 1 )x 2 +(a 1 b 0 +b 1 a 0 )x+a 0 b 0. We met µ 2 in the introduction as the map µ: R 2 R 2 R 4 in (1.1). To say a polynomial in P n can be factored into polynomials of degree k and n k (without loss of generality the factors are monic too) amounts to saying the polynomial is in the image of µ k. To bring topology to bear on the study of µ k, identify P d with R d by associating to the polynomial (2.1) the vector (a d 1,..., a 1, a 0 ). This makes µ k : P k P n k P n a continuous mapping between two locally compact spaces. Theorem 2.9. For 1 k n 1, the mapping µ k : P k P n k P n is proper. Proof. Using coefficients to identify P d with R d, µ k is a continuous mapping R k R n k R n. Since these spaces are not compact, properness of µ k is not obvious. To make it obvious, we will follow an idea of A. Khovanskii and compactify µ k to a mapping between compact spaces, to which we we can apply Example 2.4. Rather than looking at the spaces P d, let s consider all the nonzero polynomials of degree d and identify two such polynomials if they are scalar multiples of one another. Call this set P d and write the equivalence class of a polynomial f in P d as [f]. For example,

4 4 KEITH CONRAD [x 2 + 1] = [3x 2 + 3] and [2x 3 x + 4] = [x 3 (1/2)x + 2]. Every equivalence class in P d contains a unique monic polynomial of degree at most d, since a monic polynomial can t be scaled by a number other than 1 and remain monic. Therefore P d embeds into P d by f [f]. The image of P d in P d is the equivalence classes of polynomials with exact degree d (not less than d). We can identify P d with real projective d-space P d (R) by associating to the equivalence class of polynomials [a d x d + + a 1 x + a 0 ] the point [a d,..., a 1, a 0 ]. Since P d (R) is a compact Hausdorff space, P d becomes a compact Hausdorff space and the copy of P d inside P d is identified with a standard copy of R d in P d (R): the points whose first homogeneous coordinate is not 0. From a projective point of view, the polynomials at infinity in P d are those with degree less than d. Since polynomials that are determined up to an overall (nonzero) scaling factor have a product that is determined up to an overall scaling factor, we can define a multiplication map µ k : P k P n k P n by µ k ([g], [h]) = [gh]. For example, when n = 3 and k = 1, µ 1 ([a 1 x + a 0 ], [b 2 x 2 + b 1 x + b 0 ]) = [a 1 b 2 x 3 + (a 1 b 1 + a 0 b 2 )x 2 + (a 1 b 0 + a 0 b 1 )x + a 0 b 0 ]. Viewing each P d inside of Pd, the restriction of µ k from P k P n k to P k P n k is the mapping µ k : P k P n k P n defined earlier. In projective coordinates, µ k is a polynomial mapping so it is continuous. Since projective spaces are compact and Hausdorff, µ k is a proper map by Example 2.4. Finally, since µ 1 k (P n) = P k P n k, Lemma 2.8 tells us µ k is proper. Corollary If n = d d r, where each d i is a positive integer, the map µ: P d1 P dr P n given by µ(f 1,..., f r ) = f 1 f r is proper. Proof. This proceeds in the same way as the proof of Theorem 2.9, using a multiplication map µ: P d1 P dr P n that extends the map µ. For each k from 1 to n 1, the set of polynomials in P n that can be written as a product of (monic) polynomials of degree k and n k is µ k (P k P n k ), which is closed by Remark 2.7 and Theorem 2.9. For example, a fifth degree monic polynomial in R[x] that is the coefficientwise limit of a sequence of fifth degree monic polynomials that each factor as a quadratic and cubic will itself factor as a quadratic and cubic. More generally, Remark 2.7 and Corollary 2.10 imply that the polynomials in P n that admit some factorization with fixed degrees d 1,..., d r for the factors form a closed subset of P n. That means polynomial factorizations respect limit operations: if f i f in P n and each f i is a product of monic polynomials of degree d 1, d 2,..., d r then f also has such a factorization. This is nontrivial since convergence of polynomials conveys no direct information about how factorizations behave along the way Proof of Pukhlikov For the first proof we give of the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra, due to Pukhlikov [2], we want to show for n 1 that each polynomial in P n can be written as a product of linear and quadratic polynomials in R[x]. The argument is by induction on n, and since it is clear when n is 1 or 2 we take n 3 from now on. Assume by induction that every monic polynomial in the spaces P 1,..., P n 1 is a product of linear and quadratic real polynomials. We will show every monic polynomial in P n is a product of a polynomial in some P k and 1 The proofs of Theorem 2.9 and Corollary 2.10 remain true when R is replaced by any locally compact field F, like C or a p-adic field, so the monic polynomials of degree n in F [x] with a factorization in F [x] having fixed degrees form a closed subset of all monics of degree n in F [x].

5 THE FUNDAMENTAL THEOREM OF ALGEBRA VIA PROPER MAPS 5 P n k where 1 k n 1 and therefore is a product of linear and quadratic polynomials. Using the multiplication maps µ k, what we want to show is Set Z k = µ k (P k P n k ) and P n = n 1 k=1 Z = µ k (P k P n k ). n 1 k=1 The set Z is all the monic polynomials of degree n that are composite (and thus are products of linear and quadratic polynomials by the inductive hypothesis). We want to show Z = P n. Since each µ k is proper, its image Z k is a closed subset of P n. Since Z = Z 1 Z n 1 is a finite union of closed sets, Z is closed in P n. Topologically, P n = R n is connected, so if we could show Z is open in P n then we would immediately get Z = P n (since Z ), which is the goal. Alas, it will not be easy to show Z is open directly, but a modification of this idea will work. To say Z is open in P n means any polynomial f in Z has all polynomials in P n that are near it also in Z. The inverse function theorem is a natural tool to use here: supposing f = µ k (g, h), is the Jacobian determinant of µ k : P k P n k P n nonzero at (g, h)? If it is, then µ k has a continuous local inverse defined in a neighborhood of f. To analyze µ k near (g, h), we can write all nearby points in P k P n k as (g + u, h + v) where deg u k 1 and deg v n k 1 (allowing u = 0 or v = 0 too). Then (3.1) µ k (g + u, h + v) = (g + u)(h + v) = gh + gv + hu + uv = f + (gv + hu) + uv. As functions of the coefficients of u and v, the coefficients of gv + hu are all linear and the coefficients of uv are all higher degree polynomials in the coefficients of u and v. Whether the Jacobian of µ k at (g, h) is invertible or not depends on the uniqueness of writing polynomials with degree less than n as gv + hu for some u and v. Lemma 3.1. Let g and h be nonconstant polynomials whose degrees add up to n. a) If g and h are relatively prime then every polynomial of degree less than n is uniquely of the form gv + hu where deg u < deg g or u = 0, and deg v < deg h or v = 0. b) If g and h are not relatively prime then we can write gv + hu = 0 for some nonzero polynomials u and v where deg u < deg g and deg v < deg h. Proof. a) By counting dimensions, it suffices to show the only way to write gv + hu = 0 with deg u < deg g or u = 0 and deg v < deg h or v = 0 is by using u = 0 and v = 0. Since gv = hu, g hu, so g u since g and h are relatively prime. If u 0 then we get a contradiction from the inequality deg u < deg g. Therefore u = 0, so also v = 0. b) Let d(x) be a nonconstant common factor of g(x) and h(x). Write g(x) = d(x)a(x) and h(x) = d(x)b(x). Then g(x)b(x) + h(x)( a(x)) = 0. Set u(x) = b(x) and v(x) = a(x). By (3.1) and Lemma 3.1, the Jacobian matrix of µ k at (g, h) is invertible if g and h are relatively prime and not otherwise. 2 We conclude that if f Z can somehow be written as a product of nonconstant relatively prime polynomials of degrees k and n k then all monic polynomials in a neighborhood of f in P n can be factored in the same way, so this neighborhood is inside Z. Which f Z can t be written as a product of nonconstant relatively prime 2 The Jacobian determinant of µk at (g, h) is equal to the resultant of g and h, so we recover the classical theorem that the resultant of two polynomials is nonzero exactly when they are relatively prime, which is the same as saying they have no common root in a splitting field. Z k.

6 6 KEITH CONRAD polynomials? 3 Every monic polynomial in R[x] has a monic factorization into irreducibles in R[x], and as soon as a polynomial has two different monic irreducible factors it has a decomposition into nonconstant relatively prime factors. Therefore a polynomial f Z is not a product of at least 2 nonconstant relatively prime polynomials in R[x] exactly when it is a powers of a monic irreducible in R[x]. Since each polynomial in Z is a product of linear and quadratic factors, f is a power of a linear or quadratic polynomial. Let Y be all these degenerate polynomials in P n : { {(x + a) n : a R} if n is odd, Y = {(x + a) n, (x 2 + bx + c) n/2 : a, b, c R} if n is even. When n is even, we can write (x + a) n as (x 2 + 2ax + a 2 ) n/2, so 4 { {(x + a) n : a R} if n is odd, Y = {(x 2 + bx + c) n/2 : b, c R} if n is even. We have shown Z Y is open in P n. This is weaker than the plan to show Z is open in P n. But we re actually in good shape, as long as we change the focus from P n to P n Y. If n = 2 then Y = P 2 and P 2 Y is empty. For the first time we will use the fact that n 3. Lemma 3.2. If n 3, then P n Y is path connected. Proof. We identify P n with R n using polynomial coefficients: x n + a n 1 x n a 1 x + a 0 (a n 1,..., a 1, a 0 ). If n is odd then Y is a smooth curve sitting in R n : it is the image of the polynomial map R R n that associates to a R the non-leading coefficients of (x + a) n in the order of decreasing degree. For instance, if n = 3 this map is a (3a, 3a 2, a 3 ). If n is even then Y is a smooth surface in R n. (x 2 + bx + c) 2 shows us that Y = {(2b, b 2 + 2c, 2bc, c 2 ) : b, c R} R 4, For instance, if n = 4 then computing which is smooth since the 2 4 matrix of partial derivatives at a point is ( ) 2 2b 2c 0, 0 2 2b 2c which has rank 2 from its first two columns. It is left to the reader to check that the complement of a smooth 5 curve in R n is path connected for n 3 and the complement of a smooth surface in R n is path connected for n 4. When n 3, (x 1)(x 2) (x n) Z Y, so Z Y is nonempty. Since Z is closed in P n, Z (P n Y ) = Z Y is closed in P n Y. Since we know Z Y is open in P n, it is open in P n Y. Therefore Z Y is a nonempty open and closed subset of P n Y. Since P n Y 3 Viewing µk : P k P n k P k as a smooth map of manifolds, such f are not just critical values of µ k : all points in µ 1 k (f) have a noninvertible differential. Such f are called strongly critical values in [3]. 4 Since any odd-degree real polynomial has a real root, obviously Pn = µ 1(P 1 P n 1), so we could just focus on even n. 5 Space-filling curves show some constraint is necessary for the complement of a curve in R n to be path connected.

7 THE FUNDAMENTAL THEOREM OF ALGEBRA VIA PROPER MAPS 7 is path connected, and thus connected, 6 and Z Y is not empty, Z Y = P n Y. Since Y Z, we get Z = P n and this completes the first proof of the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra. 4. Proof of Pushkar The second proof of the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra, by Pushkar [3], focuses on even degree polynomials. (Any real polynomial of odd degree has a real root.) For any n 1, we want to show each polynomial in P 2n can be factored into a product of n monic quadratic polynomials. Consider the multiplication mapping (4.1) u n : P n 2 P 2n where u n (f 1, f 2,..., f n ) = f 1 f 2 f n. To prove the Fundamental Theorem of algebra, we ll show u n is surjective for all even n 2. By Corollary 2.10, u n is proper. We will use a theorem from topology about the degree of a mapping. For a smooth proper mapping ϕ: M N of connected oriented manifolds M and N with the same dimension, the degree of ϕ is defined by picking any regular value 7 y and forming ε x, x ϕ 1 (y) where ε x = 1 is dϕ x : T x (M) T y (N) is orientation preserving and ε x = 1 if dϕ x is orientation-reversing. If ϕ 1 (y) is empty, set this sum to be 0. That the degree is welldefined is rather complicated to prove. Details can be found in [1, Sect. 13]. It immediately implies the following result. Theorem 4.1. Let M and N be smooth connected oriented manifolds of the same dimension and ϕ: M N be a smooth proper mapping of degree not equal to zero. Then f is surjective. We will apply Theorem 4.1 to the mapping u n : P2 n P 2n in (4.1). Choose an orientation for P 2, which is naturally identified with R 2, and then give P2 n the product orientation (as a product of oriented manifolds). Orient P 2n by identifying it with R 2n in a natural way. We want to show u n has nonzero degree. To do this, we need a regular value. Lemma 4.2. The polynomial p(x) = n i=1 (x2 + i) = u n (x 2 + 1,..., x 2 + n) in P 2n is a regular value of u n. Proof. Exercise. Note p(x) is a product of distinct monic quadratic irreducibles. Look at the description of the regular points of the multiplication mappings µ k in Section 3. The polynomial p(x) has n! inverse images under u n : all ordered n-tuples with coordinates x 2 + i for i = 1,..., n. Since u n is invariant under permutations of its arguments, and any such permutation preserves orientation (exercise), the sign of the determinant of du n at each point in u 1 n (p(x)) is the same. Since these points each contribute the same sign to the degree, u n has degree n! or n! (the exact choice depends on how we oriented P 2 and P 2n ). Since the degree is not zero, by Theorem 4.1 u n is surjective, which completes the second proof of the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra. The novel feature of these two proofs of the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra is the topological study of multiplication maps on real polynomials to settle a factorization question. Complex numbers never enter the argument, even indirectly. The proofs provide an 6 If we had removed from Pn not Y but the larger set of nonseparable polynomials, we would not be left with a connected set: the nonseparable polynomials in P n divide the rest of P n into two open subsets: those with positive discriminant and those with negative discriminant. 7 A regular value is a point y N such that for all x ϕ 1 (y), dϕ x : T x(m) T y(n) is surjective. This includes any y for which ϕ 1 (y) is empty. Regular values in N exist by Sard s theorem.

8 8 KEITH CONRAD interesting topic for discussion in a course on differential topology, on account of the ideas that are used: spaces of real polynomials with fixed or bounded degree as an abstract manifold, passage to a projective space to compactify a smooth map and show it is proper, determining where the inverse function theorem can be applied, and the degree of a map. That proper maps and the degree of a map can be used to prove the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra is not itself new: proofs using these ideas appear in complex variable proofs. Here is one such proof, taken from [1, p. 109]. Proof. Pick any nonconstant monic polynomial with complex coefficients, say f(z) = z n + a 1 z n a n. We want to show f has a complex zero. As a continuous mapping C C, f is proper (Example 2.2). Its degree is n since f is smoothly homotopic to z z n, whose degree is easy to calculate as n. We now find ourselves in the situation of Theorem 4.1, which proves f is surjective, so f has a complex root. References [1] B. A. Dubrovin, S. P. Novikov, A. T. Fomenko, Modern Geometry II, Springer Verlag, New York, [2] A. V. Pukhlikov, A Real Proof of the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra (Russian), Matematicheskoe Prosveshchenie 1 (1997), Electronically available at [3] P. E. Pushkar, On Certain Topological Proofs of the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra (Russian), Matematicheskoe Prosveshchenie 1 (1997), Electronically available at v1/s3/p90. [4] J. Suzuki, Lagrange s Proof of the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra, Amer. Math. Monthly 113 (2006),

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