Free abelian group

Free abelian group

In abstract algebra, a free abelian group is an abelian group that has a "basis" in the sense that every element of the group can be written in one and only one way as a finite linear combination of elements of the basis, with integer coefficients. Unlike vector spaces, not all abelian groups have a basis, hence the special name for those that do. (For instance, any group having periodic elements is not a free abelian group because any element can be expressed in an infinite number of ways simply by putting in an arbitrary number of cycles constructed from a periodic element.)A typical example of a free abelian group is the direct sum ZZ of two copies of the infinite cyclic group Z; a basis is {(1,0),(0,1)}. The trivial abelian group {0} is also considered to be free abelian, with basis the empty set.

A point on terminology: a "free abelian" group is "not" the same as a free group that is abelian; a free abelian group is not necessarily a free group. In fact the only free groups that are abelian are those having an empty basis (rank 0, giving the trivial group) or having just 1 element in the basis (rank 1, giving the infinite cyclic group).Other abelian groups are not "free groups" because in free groups "ab" must be different from "ba" if "a" and "b" are different elements of the basis.

If "F" is a free abelian group with basis "B", then we have the following universal property: for every arbitrary function "f" from "B" to some abelian group "A", there exists a unique group homomorphism from "F" to "A" which extends "f". This universal property can also be used to define free abelian groups.

For every set "B", there exists a free abelian group with basis "B", and all such free abelian groups having "B" as basis are isomorphic. One example may be constructed as the abelian group of functions on "B", taking integer values all but finitely many of which are zero. This is the direct sum of copies of Z, one copy for each element of "B". Formal sums of elements of a given set "B" are nothing but the elements of the free abelian group with basis "B".

Every finitely generated free abelian group is therefore isomorphic to Z"n" for some natural number "n" called the rank of the free abelian group. In general, a free abelian group "F" has many different bases, but all bases have the same cardinality, and this cardinality is called the rank of "F". This rank of free abelian groups can be used to define the rank of all other abelian groups: see rank of an abelian group. The relationships between different bases can be interesting; for example, the different possibilities for choosing a basis for the free abelian group of rank two is reviewed in the article on the fundamental pair of periods.

Given any abelian group "A", there always exists a free abelian group "F" and a surjective group homomorphism from "F" to "A". This follows from the universal property mentioned above.

Importantly, every subgroup of a free abelian group is free abelian (proof in the end of the article). As a consequence, to every abelian group "A" there exists a short exact sequence :0 → "G" → "F" → "A" → 0with "F" and "G" being free abelian (which means that "A" is isomorphic to the factor group "F"/"G"). This is called a free resolution of "A". Furthermore, the free abelian groups are precisely the projective objects in the category of abelian groups. [Griffith, p.18]

All free abelian groups are torsion-free, and all finitely generated torsion-free abelian groups are free abelian. (The same applies to flatness, since an abelian group is torsion-free if and only if it is flat.) The additive group of rational numbers Q is a (not finitely generated) torsion-free group that's not free abelian. The reason: Q is divisible but non-zero free abelian groups are never divisible.

Free abelian groups are a special case of free modules, as abelian groups are nothing but modules over the ring Z.

It can be surprisingly difficult to determine whether a concretely given group is free abelian. Consider for instance the Baer–Specker group ZN, the direct product of countably many copies of Z. Reinhold Baer proved in 1937 that this group is "not" free abelian; Specker proved in 1950 that every countable subgroup of ZN is free abelian.

ubgroups of free abelian groups are free

This is related to the Nielsen-Schreier theorem that a subgroup of a free group is free.

Theorem: Let F be a free abelian group generated by the set X={x_k,|,kin I} and let Gsubset F be a subgroup. ThenG is free.

Proof: This proof is an application of Zorn's lemma and can be found in Serge Lang's Algebra, Appendix 2 §2.

If G={0}, the statement holds, so we can assume that G is nontrivial.First we shall prove this for finite X by induction. When |X|=1, Gis isomorphic to  (being nontrivial) and clearly free. Assume that if a group is generated by a set of size le k, then every subgroup of it is free. Let X={x_1,x_2,dots,x_k,x_{k+1}}, F the free group generatedby X and Gsubset F a subgroup. Let operatorname{pr}colon G o F be the projectionoperatorname{pr}(a_1x_1+dots+a_{k+1}x_{k+1})=a_1x_1. If operatorname{Rng}(operatorname{pr})={0}, then G is a subset of langle x_2,dots,x_{k+1} angle and freeby the induction hypothesis. Thus we can assume that the range is nontrivial.Let m>0 be the least such thatmx_1in operatorname{Rng}(operatorname{pr}) and choose some x such that operatorname{pr} x=mx_1. Itis standard to verify thatx otinoperatorname{Ker}(operatorname{pr}) and if yin G, then y=nx+k, where kin operatorname{Ker}(operatorname{pr}) and nin.Hence G=operatorname{Ker}(operatorname{pr}) oplus langle x angle.By the induction hypothesis operatorname{Ker}(operatorname{pr}) and langle x angle are free:first is isomorphic to a subgroup of langle x_2,dots x_{k+1} angle and the second to .

Assume now that X={x_imid iin I} is arbitrary.For each subset J of I let F_J be the free group generated by {x_imid iin J},thus F_Jsubset Fis a free subgroup and denote G_J=F_Jcap G.

Now set

S={(G_J,w)mid G_J { m; is; a; nontrivial; free; group;and; }w{ m; is; a; basis; of;}G_J}.

Formally w is an injective (one-to-one) map

w:J' o G_J

such that w [J'] generates G_J.

Clearly S is nonempty: Let us have an element x in G.Then x=a_1x_{i_1}+cdots+a_nx_{i_n} and thus the free groupgenerated by S={x_{i_1},dots, x_{i_n}} contains x and theintersection Gcap F_J is a nontrivial subgroup of a finitely generated free abelian group and thus free by the induction above.

If (G_J,w),(G_K,u)in S,define order (G_J,w)le(G_K,u) if and only if Jsubset K and the basis u is an extension of w; formallyif w:J' o G_J and u:K' o G_K, then J'subset K' and u estriction w=w.

If (G_{J_r},w_r)_{rin L}is a le-chain (L is some linear order) of elementsof S, then obiously

(igcup_{rin L}G_{J_r},igcup_{rin L}w_r)in S,

so we can apply Zorn's lemma and conclude that there exists a maximal(G_J,w). Since G_I=G, it is enough to prove now that J=I. Assume on contrary that there is kin Isetminus J.

Put K=Jcup{k}. If G_K=F_Kcap G=G_J, then it means that (G_J,w)le (G_K,w), but they are not equal, so(G_K,w) is bigger, which contradicts maximality of (G_J,w).Otherwise there is an element nx_k + yin G_Ksuch that ninsetminus{0} and yin G_Jsubset F_J.

The set of nin for which there exists yin G_J such thatnx_k+yin G forms a subgroup of . Let n_0 bea generator of this group and let w_k=n_0x_k+yin G,with yin F_J. Now if zin G_K, then for some min Zz=z-mw_k+mw_k, where z-mw_kin G_J.

On the other handclearly w_kcap G_J={0}, so w'=wcup {langle k,w_k angle}is a basis of G_K, so (G_K,w')ge (G_J,w) contradicting the maximality again. square

ee also

* Finitely generated abelian group



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