Burnside’s method

April 24, 2017

Burnside proved in 1901 that if p is an odd prime then a permutation group containing a regular subgroup isomorphic to C_{p^2} is either imprimitive or 2-transitive. His proof was an early applications of character theory to permutation groups. Groups with this property are now called B-groups.

Burnside attempted to generalize his 1901 result in two later papers: in 1911, he claimed a proof that C_{p^n} is a B-group for any prime p and any n \ge 2, and in 1921, he claimed a proof that all abelian groups, except for elementary abelian groups, are B-groups. The first claim is correct, but his proof has a serious gap. This error appears to have been unobserved (or, just possibly, observed but ignored, since the result was soon proved in another way using Schur’s theory of S-rings) until 1994 when it was noted by Peter Neumann, whose explication may be found in his introduction to Burnside’s collected works. In 1995, Knapp extended Burnside’s argument to give a correct proof. Burnside’s second claim is simply false: for example, S_4 \wr S_2 acts primitively on \{1,2,3,4\}^2, and has a regular subgroup isomorphic to C_4 \times C_4. In one of my current projects, I’ve simplified Knapp’s proof and adapted Burnside’s character-theoretic methods to show, more generally, that any cyclic group of composite order is a B-group.

The purpose of this post is to record some proofs omitted for reasons of space from the draft paper. This companion post has some notes on B-groups that may be of more general interest.

Let \xi be a primitive nth root of unity. Define

R(r) = \{ r, r + p^{n-1}, \ldots, r+ (p-1)p^{n-1} \}

for 0 < r < p^{n-1}. Define a subset Z of \{1,\ldots,p^n-1\} to be null if there exists s \in \mathbb{N}_0 and distinct r_{ij} \in \{1,\ldots, p^{n-1}-1\} for 0 \le i \le p-1 and 1 \le j \le s such that r_{ij} \equiv i mod p for each i and j and

Z = \bigcup_{i=0}^{p-1} \bigcup_{j=1}^s R(r_{ij}).

Proposition 6.2 Let \omega = \zeta^{p^{n-1} c} where c is not divisible by p. Let \mathcal{O} \subseteq \{1,\ldots,p^n-1\}. Then

\sum_{i \in \mathcal{O}} \zeta^i = \sum_{i \in \mathcal{O}} \omega^i

if and only if either

  1. \mathcal{O} is null; or
  2. \mathcal{O} = \{p^{n-1}, \ldots, (p-1)p^{n-1} \} \; \cup \; \bigcup_{i=1}^{p-1} R(r_i) \; \cup \; Z where Z is a null set, the r_i are distinct elements of \{1,\ldots,p^{n-1}-1\}\backslash Z and r_i \equiv i mod p for each i.

Proof. Since the minimum polynomial of \zeta is

1+X^{p^{n-1}} + \cdots + X^{(p-1)p^{n-1}}

we have \sum_{i \in R(r)} \zeta^i = 0. Since \xi^{p^{n-1}} = \omega, we have \sum_{i \in R(r)} \omega^i = p\omega^r. It follows that \sum_{i \in Z} \xi^i = \sum_{i \in Z} \omega^i = 0 if Z is a null set. (For the second equality, note the contributions from the R(r_{ij}) for fixed j combine to give p + p\omega + \cdots + p\omega^{p-1} = 0.) For (2) we have \sum_{i=1}^{p-1} \xi^{i p^{n-1}} = \omega + \cdots + \omega^{p-1} = -1, \sum_{i=1}^{p-1} \omega^{i p^{n-1}} = (p-1) and \sum_{i=1}^{p-1} p \omega^i = - p. This proves the ‘if’ direction.

Conversely, by Lemma 2.1 in the paper, \mathcal{O} \backslash \{p^{n-1},\ldots,(p-1)p^{n-1} \} is a union of some of some of the sets R(r). There exists a unique subset A of \{1,\ldots,p-1\} and unique j_i \in \mathbb{N} for 0 \le i \le p-1 and unique r_{ij} \in \{1,\ldots, p^{n-1}-1\} for 1 \le j \le s and 0 \le i \le j_i such that

\mathcal{O} = \{ p^{n-1} i : i \in A \} \cup \bigcup_{i=0}^{p-1}\bigcup_{j=1}^{i_j} R(r_{ij}).

We have \sum_{i \in \mathcal{O}} \zeta^i = \sum_{i \in A} \omega^i and \sum_{i \in \mathcal{O}} \omega^i = |A| + \sum_{i=0}^{p-1} pj_i \omega^i. Therefore

|A| + \sum_{i=0}^{p-1} (pj_i - [i \in A]) X^i

has \omega as a root. Since this polynomial has degree at most p-1 and the minimal polynomial of \omega is 1+X +\cdots + X^{p-1}, it follows that the coefficients are constant. Hence

|A| + pj_0 = pj_i - [i \in A]

for 1\le i \le p-1. If A = \varnothing then j_0 = j_1 = \ldots = j_{p-1} and \mathcal{O} is null. Otherwise, taking the previous displayed equation mod p we see that A = \{1,\ldots,p-1\}, and, moreover, the j_i are constant for 1 \le i \le p-1. (This holds even if p=2.) Set

s = j_1 = \ldots = j_{p-1}.

We have j_0 = s-1. Hence, s \in \mathbb{N} and choosing in any way r_i \in \{1,\ldots,p^{n-1}-1\} for 1 \le i \le p-1 such that r_i \in \mathcal{O}, we see that \mathcal{O} is the union of \{p^{n-1}, \ldots, (p-1)p^{n-1}\}, the sets R(r_i) for 1 \le i \le p-1 and a null set. \Box.

Proposition 6.7. The proof of (iii) is omitted because it is similar to (ii). Here is an informal presentation of the inductive argument common to both. Define

R(2^n p) = R(2^n) \otimes \left( \begin{matrix} 1 & 1 \\ -1 & p-1 \end{matrix} \right)


R(2^n) = \left( \begin{matrix} 1 & 1 & 1 & 1 & \ldots & 1 & 1 & 1 \\ -1 & -1 & -1 & -1 & \ldots & -1 & -1 & -1 \\ 0 & -2 & 2 & 2 & \ldots   & 2 & 2 & 2 \\ 0 & 0 & -2^2 & 2^2 & \ldots & 2^2 & 2^2 & 2^2 \\ \vdots & \vdots & \vdots & \vdots & \ddots & \vdots & \vdots & \vdots \\ 0 & 0 & 0 & 0 & \ldots & -2^{n-2} & 2^{n-2} &  2^{n-2} \\ 0 & 0 & 0 & 0 & \ldots & 0 & -2^{n-1} & 2^{n-1} \end{matrix} \right).

The rows and columns of R(2^n p) are labelled by the divisors D of 2^n p, as indicated below for the case n=3:

R(2^3 p) = \begin{matrix} 1 \\ 2 \\ 2^2 \\ 2^3 \\ p \\ 2p \\ 2^2p \\ 2^3p \end{matrix} \left( \begin{array}{cccc|cccc}  1 & 1 & 1 & 1  & 1 & 1 & 1 & 1 \\ -1 & 1 & 1 & 1 & -1 & 1 & 1 & 1 \\ 0  & -2  & 2 &2 & 0 & -2 & 2  & 2 \\ 0 & 0 & -2^2 & 2 & 0 & 0 & -2^2 & 2^2\\ \hline -1 & -1 & -1 & -1  & 1 & 1 & 1 & 1 \\ 1 & -1 & -1 & -1 & -1 & 1 & 1 & 1 \\ 0  & 2  & -2 & -2 & 0 & -2 & 2 & 2 \\ 0 & 0 & 2^2 & -2^2 & 0 & 0 & -2^2 & 2^2 \end{array} \right).

Say that a partition of D \backslash \{ 2^n p\} is coprime if the highest common factor of the numbers in each part is 1. The aim of the game is to find linear combinations of the rows of R(2^n p), always including rows 1 and 2, such that the subsets of the columns on which the row sums are equal form a coprime partition of the divisors.

Model characters for wreath products with symmetric groups

April 24, 2017

Let G be a finite group. The model character for G is \sum_{\chi \in \mathrm{Irr}(G)} \chi. A nice short paper by Inglis, Richardson and Saxl gives a self-contained inductive proof that if \pi_{2r} is the permutation character of \mathrm{Sym}_{2r} acting by conjugacy on its set of fixed-point-free involutions then

\sum_r (\pi_{2r} \times \mathrm{sgn}_{n-2r}) \bigl\uparrow^{\mathrm{Sym}_n}

is the model character for \mathrm{Sym}_n. Assuming Pieri’s rule, that if \alpha is a partition of r then \chi^\alpha \times \mathrm{sgn}_{S_t} \uparrow^{S_{r+t}} = \sum \chi^\lambda, where the sum is over all partitions \lambda obtained from \alpha by adding t boxes, no two in the same row, this follows from the well-known fact (proved inductively in the paper) that \pi_{2r} = \sum_{\gamma \in \mathrm{Par}(r)} \chi^{2\gamma}.

Note that \pi_{2r} \times \mathrm{sgn}_{n-2r}\bigl\uparrow^{\mathrm{Sym}_n} is the induction of a linear character from the centralizer of the involution (1,2)\ldots (2r-1,2r) \in \mathrm{Sym}_n. (When r=0 we count the identity as an involution as an honorary involution.) Up to conjugacy, each involution is used exactly once to define the model character.

In an interesting paper, Baddeley generalizes the Inglis–Richardson–Saxl result to a larger class of groups. He makes the following definition.

Definition. An involution model for a finite group G is a collection \{ (\tau_1, \rho_1), \ldots, (\tau_c, \rho_c) \} such that \{\tau_1,\ldots, \tau_c\} is a set of conjugacy-class representatives for the involutions of G and \rho_i : C_G(u_i) \rightarrow \mathbb{C} is a linear character for each i \in \{1,\ldots, c\}, chosen so that

\sum_{\chi \in \mathrm{Irr}(G)} \chi = \sum_{i=1}^c \rho_i \bigl\uparrow_{\mathrm{Cent}_G(\tau_i)}^G

For example, if an abelian group A has an involution model then, since each centralizer is A itself, comparing degrees shows that c = |A|, and so A is an elementary abelian 2-group. Conversely, any such group clearly has an involution model. By the Frobenius–Schur count of involutions, a necessary condition for a group to have an involution model is that all its irreducible representations are defined over the reals.

Baddeley’s main theorem is as follows.

Theorem. [Baddeley] If a finite group H has an involution model then so does H \wr S_n.

The aim of this post is to sketch my version of Baddeley’s proof of his theorem in the special case when H = C_2. Some familiarity with the theory of conjugacy classes and representations of wreath products in Chapter 4 of James & Kerber, Representation theory of the symmetric group is assumed. The characters \rho_i defined below differ from Baddeley’s by a factor of \mathrm{Inf}_{\mathrm{Sym}_n}^{H \wr \mathrm{Sym}_n} \mathrm{sgn}_{\mathrm{Sym}_n}; this is done to make \phi_r (defined below) a permutation character, in analogy with the Inglis–Richardson–Saxl character \pi_r.

Aside: the Hyperoctahedral group

Observe that H \wr \mathrm{Sym}_n has an n-dimensional orthogonal representation as the group of all n \times n matrices with entries \pm 1 that become permutation matrices when all -1 entries are changed to 1. It easily follows that H \wr \mathrm{Sym}_n is the hyperoctahedral group of symmetries of the n-hypercube. It is a nice exercise to identify \mathrm{Sym}_4, the rotational symmetry group of the cube, as an explicit index 2 subgroup of H \wr \mathrm{Sym}_3.


Let h generate a fixed copy of C_2. We define an action of \mathrm{Sym}_n on H^{\times n} by

(b_1,\ldots,b_n)^\sigma = (b_{1\sigma^{-1}},\ldots,b_{n\sigma^{-1}}).

It is helpful to think of the element b_i, in position i on the left-hand side, as occupying position b_{i\sigma} on the right-hand side. Thus \mathrm{Sym}_n acts by place permutation. Let

G = H^{\times n} \rtimes \mathrm{Sym}_n \cong H \wr S_n.

We write elements of G as (b_1,\ldots,b_n;t) where b_i \in \{1,h\} for each i.

Imprimitive action of G

For each i \in \{1,\ldots, n\} introduce a formal symbol \overline{i}. (This could be thought of as -i, but I find that bar makes for a more convenient notation.) Let \Omega = \{1,  \ldots, n, \overline{1}, \ldots, \overline{n} \}. Given \sigma \in \mathrm{Sym}_{\{1,\ldots,n\}}, we define \overline{\sigma} \in \mathrm{Sym}_{\{\overline{1},\ldots,\overline{n}\}} by i \overline{\sigma} = i for all i \in \{1,\ldots, n\} and \overline{i} \overline{\sigma} = \overline{i\sigma} for all \overline{i} \in \{\overline{1},\ldots,\overline{n} \}. Then G is isomorphic to the subgroup G_n \le \mathrm{Sym}_\Omega defined by G_n = B_n \rtimes T_n where

B_n =  \langle (1, \overline{1}), \ldots, (n, \overline{n}) \rangle


T_n = \langle \sigma \overline{\sigma} : \sigma \in \mathrm{Sym}_n \rangle.

Note that G_n acts imprimitively on \Omega with blocks \{1, \overline{1}\}, \ldots, \{n,\overline{n}\}.

Irreducible representations of G

Let \epsilon : \{1,h\} \rightarrow \{\pm 1\} be the faithful character of H \cong C_2 and let \widetilde{\epsilon}^{\times s} denote the linear character of H \wr \mathrm{Sym}_s on which each of the s factors of H in the base group factor acts as \epsilon. Given a bipartition (\lambda|\mu) of n with \lambda \in \mathrm{Par}(t) and \mu \in \mathrm{Par}(n-t), we define

\chi^{(\lambda|\mu)} = \bigl(  \mathrm{Inf}_{\mathrm{Sym}_t}^{H \wr \mathrm{Sym}_t} \chi^\lambda \times \widetilde{\epsilon}^{\times (n-t)} \mathrm{Inf}_{\mathrm{Sym}_{n-t}}^{H \wr \mathrm{Sym}_{n-t}} \chi^\mu \bigr) \bigl\uparrow^{H \wr \mathrm{Sym}_n}.

Basic Clifford theory shows that the characters \chi^{(\lambda|\mu)} for (\lambda|\mu) \in \mathrm{BPar}(n) form a complete irredundant set of irreducible characters of G. For example, the n-dimensional representation of G as the symmetry group of the n-hypercube has character labelled by the bipartition \bigl((n-1)|(1)\bigr).

Conjugacy classes of involutions in G

Since G_n/B_n \cong T_n \cong \mathrm{Sym}_n, any involution in G is of the form (b_1,\ldots,b_n ; \sigma) where \sigma \in \mathrm{Sym}_n is an involution. Moreover, as the calculation (h,1;(1,2))^2 = (h,h) suggests, the place permutation action of \sigma on (b_1,\ldots,b_n) permutes amongst themselves the indices i such that b_i = h. By applying a suitable place permutation we may assume that b_1,\ldots b_{n-s} = 1 and b_{n-s+1} = \ldots = b_n = h, for some s \in \{0,\ldots, n\}. Now using that (h,h ; (1,2)) is conjugate, by (h,1), to (1,1;(1,2)), we see that a set of conjugacy class representatives for the involutions in G is

\{ (\stackrel{n-s}{\overbrace{1, \ldots, 1}} , \stackrel{s}{\overbrace{h, \ldots, h}} ; (1,2) \ldots (2r-1,2r) \}

for r and s such that 2r+s \le n. The generalized cycle-type invariant defined in James–Kerber can be used to show no two of these representatives are conjugate.

Centralizers of involutions in G

As an element of G_n, the involution defined above is

\tau_s^{(r)} = (n-s+1,\overline{n-s+1}) \ldots (n,\overline{n}) \theta_r\overline{\theta_r}

where, by definition, \theta_r = (1,2)\ldots (2r-1,2r) \in \mathrm{Sym}_r. If (b_1,\ldots,b_n;\sigma) commutes with \tau_s^{(r)} then, passing to the quotient, \sigma commutes with \theta_r. Therefore the non-singleton orbits

\{1,2\}, \{\overline{1},\overline{2}\}, \ldots, \{2r-1,2r\}, \{\overline{2r-1},\overline{2r}\}

of \tau_s^{(r)} are permuted by (b_1,\ldots,b_n;\sigma, as are the remaining non-singleton orbits

\{n-s+1, \overline{n-s+1}\}, \ldots, \{n,\overline{n} \}.


\mathrm{Cent}_{G_n}(\tau_s^{(r)}) = \mathrm{Cent}_{G_{2r}}(\theta_r\overline{\theta_r}) \times G_{n-(2r+s)} \times G_s

where G_{n-(2r+s)} acts on \{2r+1, \ldots, n-s, \overline{2r+1}, \ldots, \overline{n-s}\} and G_s acts on \{n-s+1,\ldots,n,\overline{n-s+1},\ldots,\overline{n}\}. Clearly (b_1,b_2,\ldots, b_{2r-1},b_{2r}) \in G_r commutes with

(1,2)\ldots (2r-1,2r) (\overline{1},\overline{2})\ldots(\overline{2r-1},\overline{2r})

if and only if b_1 = b_2, \ldots, b_{2r-1} = b_{2r}. Therefore the first factor is permutation isomorphic to

D_r \rtimes \mathrm{Cent}_{T_r}(\theta_r\overline{\theta_r})


D_r = \{(b_1,b_1,\ldots,b_r,b_r) : b_1, \ldots, b_r \in H \}.

Set E_r = \mathrm{Cent}_{T_r}(\theta_r\overline{\theta_r}). Note that E_r is permutation isomorphic to C_2 \wr S_r, acting with one orbit on \{1,\ldots,r\} and another on \{\overline{1},\ldots,\overline{r}\}. (One has to get used to the two different ways in which the group C_2 \wr S_r arises; in this post I’ve used H when the C_2 comes from the base group.)

For example, if n=7 then

\tau_2^{(2)} = (1,2)(\overline{1},\overline{2})(3,4)(\overline{3},\overline{4})(6,\overline{6})(7,\overline{7}) \in G_7

and the centralizer of \tau_2^{(2)} is generated by (1, \overline{1})(2, \overline{2}), (3,\overline{3})(4,\overline{4}), (5, \overline{5}), (6,\overline{6}), (7,\overline{7}) in the base group B_7 and (1,2)(\overline{1},\overline{2}), (1,3)(2,4)(\overline{1},\overline{3})(\overline{2},\overline{4}) and (6,7)(\overline{6},\overline{7}) in the top group T_7.

Definition of the linear representations and reduction

The second and third factors of the centralizer are both complete wreath product, so, by analogy with the Inglis–Richardson–Saxl paper, it is natural guess to define \rho_s^{(r)}: \mathrm{Cent}_{G_n}(\tau_s^{(r)}) \rightarrow \mathbb{C} so that \rho_s^{(r)} restricts to:

  • The trivial character on D_r \rtimes \mathrm{Cent}_{T_r}(\theta_r\overline{\theta_r});
  • \mathrm{Inf}_{\mathrm{Sym}_{n-(2r+s)}}^{H \wr \mathrm{Sym}_{n-(2r+s)}} \mathrm{sgn}_{\mathrm{Sym}_{n-(2r+s)}} on G_{n-(2r+s)};
  • \widetilde{\epsilon}^{\times s} \mathrm{Inf}_{\mathrm{Sym}_s}^{H \wr \mathrm{Sym}_s} \mathrm{sgn}_{\mathrm{Sym}_s} on G_s.


\phi_r = 1_{D_r \rtimes (C_2 \wr \mathrm{Sym}_r)}\bigl\uparrow^{G_{2r}}.

Since \widetilde{\epsilon}^{\times r} restricts to the trivial character of D_r \rtimes C_2 \wr S_r, we have \phi_r = \widetilde{\epsilon}^{\times r}\phi_r. The definition of \rho_s^{(r)} above is therefore symmetric with respect to 1_H and \epsilon. Moreover, if

\phi_r = \sum_{(\alpha|\beta) \in \mathrm{BPar}(n)} m_{\alpha\beta} \chi^{\alpha|\beta}

then, by Pieri’s rule for the hyperoctahedral group (this follows from Pieri’s rule for the symmetric group in the same way as the hyperoctahedral branching rule follows from the branching rule for the symmetric group — for the latter see Lemma 4.2 in this paper),

\rho_s^{(r)} \bigl\uparrow^{G_n} = \sum_{(\alpha|\beta) \in \mathrm{BPar}(n)} \sum_{(\lambda|\mu)} m_{\alpha\beta} \chi^{(\lambda|\mu)}

where the second sum is over all bipartitions (\lambda|\mu) of n such that \lambda and \mu are obtained by adding k boxes, no two in the same row, to \alpha and \beta, respectively. Therefore Baddeley’s theorem holds if and only if \phi_r is multiplicity-free, with precisely the right constituents for the Pieri induction to give us every character of H \wr S_n exactly once. This is the content of the following proposition.

Proposition. \phi_r = \sum_{(\gamma|\delta) \in \mathrm{BPar}(r)} \chi^{(2\gamma|2\delta)}

Proof of the proposition

To avoid some messy notation I offer a ‘proof by example’. I believe it shows all the essential ideas of the general case.

Proof by example. Take r=3. We have

D_3 = \langle (1,\overline{1})(2, \overline{2}), (3,\overline{3})(4,\overline{4}), (5, \overline{5})(6, \overline{6} \rangle \le B

and so \phi_3 is induced from the trivial character of

\mathrm{Cent}_{G_3}(\tau_3^{(0)}) = D_3 \rtimes E_3

(Recall that E_3 = \mathrm{Cent}_{T_3}(\theta_3\overline{\theta_3}) where \theta_3 = (1,2)(3,4)(5,6).) To apply Clifford theory, it would be much more convenient if we induced from a subgroup of B_3 \rtimes T_3 containing the full base group B_3. We arrange this by first inducing up to B_3 \rtimes E_3. The calculation

1_{D_1}\bigl\uparrow^{G_1} = \widetilde{1_H}^{\times 2} + \widetilde{\epsilon}^{\times 2}

shows that, on restriction to B_3, the induced character

1_{D_3 \rtimes E_3} \bigl\uparrow^{B_3 \rtimes E_3}

is the sum of all products \psi_1 \times \psi_2 \times \psi_3 where each \psi_i is one of the irreducible characters 1_{H \wr C_2} = \widetilde{1_H}^{\times 2} or \eta_{H \wr C_2} = \widetilde{\epsilon}^{\times 2} on the right-hand side above. The centralizer \mathrm{Cent}_{T_3}(\theta_3 \overline{\theta_r}) acts transitively on the 3 factors: glueing together the products in the same orbits into induced characters we get that 1_{D_3 \rtimes E_3} \uparrow^{B_3 \rtimes E_3} has the following irreducible constituents:

  • \widetilde{1_{H \wr C_2}}^{\times 3} 1_{E_3}
  • \widetilde{1_{H \wr C_2}}^{\times 2} 1_{E_2} \times \eta_{H \wr C_2} 1_{E_1}
  • 1_{H \wr C_2} \times \widetilde{\eta_{H \wr C_2}}^{\times 2} 1_{E_2}
  • \widetilde{\eta_{H \wr C_2}}^{\times 3} 1_{E_3}.

Note that the ’tilde-construction’ enters in two ways: once to combine characters of each two H-factors in the same orbit of \tau_r, and then again to combine the characters obtained in this way. As a small check, observe that the sum of degrees is 1 + 3 + 3 + 1 = 8, which is the index of D_3 \rtimes E_3 in B_3 \rtimes E_3.

A routine induction up to G_3 using the decomposition of \pi_r stated earlier shows that \phi_3 is the sum of the \chi^{(\lambda|\mu)} for the following bipartitions (\lambda|\mu):

  • \bigl((6)|\varnothing\bigr), \bigl((4,2)|\varnothing\bigr), \bigl((2,2,2)|\varnothing\bigr)
  • \bigl((4)|(2)\bigr), \bigl((2,2)|(2)\bigr)
  • \bigl((2)|(4)\bigr), \bigl((2)|(2,2)\bigr)
  • \bigl(\varnothing|(6)\bigr), \bigl(\varnothing|(4,2)\bigr), \bigl(\varnothing|(2,2,2)\bigr).

as required. \Box

Some Stirling Number identities by differentiation

March 20, 2017

Let G(z) be the exponential generating function enumerating a family of combinatorial objects. For example, -\log(1-z) = \sum_{n=1}^\infty z^n/n is the e.g.f. enumerating cycles (there are (n-1)! cycles on \{1,\ldots,n\}) and \mathrm{e}^z -1 = \sum_{n=1}^\infty z^n/n! is the e.g.f enumerating non-empty sets. Then \exp G(z) is the e.g.f. enumerating set partitions where each part carries a G-structure. For example,

\exp (\mathrm{e}^z - 1) = \sum_{n=0}^\infty B_n \frac{z^n}{n!}

where the Bell Number B_n is the number of set partitions of \{1,\ldots, n\}. We can keep track of the number of parts with a further variable. For example

\exp \bigl( -x \log (1-z) \bigr) = \sum_{n=0}^\infty \sum_{m=0}^\infty \genfrac{[}{]}{0pt}{}{n}{m} x^m \frac{z^n}{n!}

where the (unsigned) Stirling Number of the First Kind \genfrac{[}{]}{0pt}{}{n}{m} is the number of permutations of \{1, \ldots, n\} having exactly m disjoint cycles. Similarly

\exp \bigl( x(\mathrm{e}^z - 1) \bigr) = \sum_{n=0}^\infty \sum_{m=0}^\infty  \genfrac{\{}{\}}{0pt}{}{n}{m} x^m \frac{z^n}{n!}

where the Stirling Number of the Second Kind \genfrac{\{}{\}}{0pt}{}{n}{m} is the number of set partitions of \{1, \ldots, n\} into exactly m parts.

All this is explained beautifully in Chapter 3 of Wilf’s book generating functionology, in a way that leads readily into the high-brow modern take on these ideas using combinatorial species. For my planned combinatorics textbook I expect to deal with products of exponential generating functions in an ad-hoc way, and probably not do much more, since it’s impossible to compete with Wilf’s exposition.

Two part structures where one part is boring

A special case of the multiplication rule is that \exp(z) G(z) is the e.g.f enumerating two-part set compositions (A,B) where A carries no extra structure and B carries a G-structure. For example, if d_n is the number of derangements of \{1,\ldots, n\} then, since any permutation is uniquely determined by its set of fixed points and the derangement it induces on the remaining points, we have \exp(z) G(z) = \sum_{n=0}^\infty n! z^n/n! = 1/(1-z), giving

G(z) = \exp(-z)/(1-z).

For another example, observe that the e.g.f enumerating the r^n functions f : \{1,\ldots, n\} \rightarrow \{1,\ldots, r\} is

\sum_{r=0}^\infty r^n \frac{w^r}{r!} \frac{z^n}{n!} = \sum_{r=0}^\infty \frac{w^r}{r!} \sum_{n=0}^\infty \frac{(rz)^n}{n!} = \sum_{r=0}^\infty \frac{w^r}{r!} \mathrm{e}^{rz} = \exp (w \mathrm{e}^z).

Each such function is uniquely determined by a pair (A,B) where A = \{1,\ldots,r\} \backslash \mathrm{im} f carries no extra structure, and B = \mathrm{im} f carries a set composition of \{1,\ldots, n\} into |B| parts. Therefore the e.g.f. for set compositions is

\exp(-w) \exp (w\mathrm{e}^z) = \exp(w (\mathrm{e}^z-1)).

(Note this series is doubly exponential: the number of set compositions of \{1,\ldots,n\} into exactly m parts is the coefficient of w^m/m! z^n/n!.) Since there are m! set compositions associated to each set partition into m parts, we get

\exp(w (\mathrm{e}^z-1) = \sum_{s=0}^\infty \sum_{n=0}^\infty  \genfrac{\{}{\}}{0pt}{}{n}{m} w^m \frac{z^n}{n!}.

as claimed earlier.

Binomial inversion

Multiplication by an exponential series is closely related to binomial inversion. Let G(z) = \sum_{n=0}^\infty a_n z^n/n!. Then

\exp(z) G(z) = \sum_{n=0}^\infty b_n z^n/n!

if and only if b_n = \sum_{m=0}^n \binom{n}{m} a_m.

This gives a very quick and elementary proof of the derangements formula: enumerating permutations by their number of fixed points we have n! = \sum_{m=0}^n \binom{n}{m} d_m, so

\sum_{n=0}^\infty d_n z^n/n! = \exp(-z) \sum_{n=0}^\infty n! z^n/n! = \exp(-z)/(1-z);

now take the coefficient of z^n to get

d_n = n!\bigl( 1-\frac{1}{1!} + \frac{1}{2!} - \cdots + \frac{(-1)^n}{n!} \bigr).


Let G(z) = \sum_{n=1}^\infty a_n z^n/n! be the exponential generating function for G-structures. We have seen that the weighted exponential generating function for G-structured set partitions is

\sum_{m=0}^\infty \sum_{n=0}^\infty a^{(m)}_n x^m \frac{z^n}{n!} = \exp x G(z).

Differentiating k times with respect to x, dividing by k!, and then setting x=1 we get

\sum_{n=0}^\infty \sum_{m=0}^n a^{(m)}_n \binom{m}{k} \frac{z^n}{n!} = G(z)^k/k! \exp G(z).

Now G(z)^k/k! is the exponential generating function for G-structured set partitions into exactly k parts, so, taking coefficients of z^n/n!, we get

\begin{aligned} \sum_{m=0}^n a^{(m)}_n \binom{m}{k} &= \Bigl[ \frac{z^n}{n!}\Bigr] \sum_{r=0}^\infty  a^{(k)}_r \frac{z^r}{r!} \exp G(z) \\ &= \sum_{r=0}^n a^{(k)}_r \frac{n!}{r!} [z^{n-r}] \exp G(z) \\ &= \sum_{r=0}^n \binom{n}{r} a^{(k)}_r  \bigl[\frac{z^{n-r}}{(n-r)!}\Bigr] \exp G(z) \\ &= \sum_{r=0}^n \binom{n}{r} a^{(k)}_r b_{n-r}   \end{aligned}

where b_n is the number of G-structured set partitions of \{1,\ldots,n\}.

This identity gives uniform proofs of two Stirling Number identities.

Taking G(z) = -\log (1-z) to enumerate Stirling Numbers of the First Kind we have \exp G(z) = 1/(1-z) and b_n = n! so

\sum_{m=0}^n  \genfrac{[}{]}{0pt}{}{n}{m} \binom{m}{k} = \sum_{r=0}^n \binom{n}{r}  \genfrac{[}{]}{0pt}{}{r}{k} (n-r)! = \genfrac{[}{]}{0pt}{}{n+1}{k+1}

where the final equality holds because the middle sum counts triples (X, \sigma, \tau) where X is an r-subset of \{1,\ldots, n\}, \sigma is a permutation of X having exactly k disjoint cycles and \tau is a cycle on \{1,\ldots,n,n+1\}\backslash X; such triples are in obvious bijection with permutations of \{1,\ldots,n ,n+1\} having exactly k+1 disjoint cycles.

Taking G(z) = \mathrm{e}^z-1 to enumerate Stirling Numbers of the Second Kind we have \exp G(z) = \sum_{n=0}^\infty B_n \frac{z^n}{n!} and b_n = B_n, so

\sum_{m=0}^n  \genfrac{\{}{\}}{0pt}{}{n}{m} \binom{m}{k}  = \sum_{r=0}^n  \binom{n}{r} \genfrac{\{}{\}}{0pt}{}{r}{k}  B_{n-r}.

This, and the analogous identity for the Stirling Numbers of the First Kind, may be compared with

\sum_{m=0}^n \binom{n}{m} \genfrac{\{}{\}}{0pt}{}{m}{k} = \genfrac{\{}{\}}{0pt}{}{n+1}{k+1}

which follows from counting set partitions according to the size of the part containing n+1.

Bijective proofs

The left-hand side of the general identity above counts G-structured set partitions of \{1,\ldots,n\} having exactly k distinguished parts, and maybe some further undistinguished parts. (Typically differentiation transforms generating functions in this way). The right-hand side counts the same objects, by enumerating triples consisting of an r-subset X of \{1,\ldots,n\}, a G-structured set partition of X into k distinguished parts, and an (undistinguished) G-structured set partition of \{1,\ldots,n\}\backslash X. This gives fully bijective proofs of both identities. So maybe they are not so deep: that said, even the special case k=1 of the first, namely

\sum_{m=0}^n  \genfrac{[}{]}{0pt}{}{n}{m} m =  \genfrac{[}{]}{0pt}{}{n+1}{2}

seemed non-obvious to me.

Regular abelian subgroups of permutation groups

March 15, 2017

A B-group is a group K such that if G is a permutation group containing K as a regular subgroup then G is either imprimitive or 2-transitive. (Regular subgroups are always transitive in this post.) The term ‘B-group’ was introduced by Wielandt, in honour of Burnside, who showed in 1901 that if p is an odd prime then C_{p^2} is a B-group. This is a companion to his important 1906 theorem that a transitive permutation group of prime degree is either solvable or 2-transitive.

One might imagine that, post-classification, it would be clear which groups are B-groups, but this is far from the case. The purpose of this post is to collect some ancillary results with a bearing on this question.


When Burnside’s argument succeeds in proving that G is imprimitive, it does so by showing that the kernel N of an irreducible non-trivial constituent of the permutation character of G is intransitive. The orbits of N are then a non-trivial block system for G. Thus G is not even quasiprimitive. That one always gets this stronger result is explained by Corollary 3.4 in this paper by Li. The details are spelled out below.

Claim. If G is a permutation group containing a regular abelian subgroup K then G is primitive if and only if G is quasiprimitive.

Proof. Suppose B is part of a non-trivial block system \mathcal{B} for G. Let L be the kernel of the induced action of K on \mathcal{B}. The key observation is that K/L acts regularly on \mathcal{B}: it acts semiregularly, since K/L is abelian, and since K is transitive, K/L is transitive on \mathcal{B}. Similarly, since K is transitive, L is transitive on the block B (given \alpha, \beta \in B, there exists k \in K such that \alpha^k = \beta; then B^k = B and because k acts regularly on \mathcal{B}, we have k \in L). So we can factor K as a top part K/L, acting regularly on \mathcal{B}, and a bottom part L acting regularly on each block. In particular, the kernel of G acting on \mathcal{B} contains L and L has \mathcal{B} as its orbits. Therefore \mathcal{B} is the set of orbits of a normal subgroup of G, and G is not quasiprimitive. \Box

Dropping the abelian condition there are many imprimitive but quasiprimitive groups: they can be obtained from factorizations G = HK of a finite simple group G where H \cap K = 1 and H is not maximal. One nice example is A_7 = F_{21}S_5 where F_{21} is the transitive Frobenius group of order 21 inside A_7 and S_5 is generated by (1,2,3,4,5) and (1,2)(6,7). Here F_{21} is not maximal because it is a subgroup of \mathrm{GL}_3(\mathbb{F}_2) in its action on the 7 non-zero vectors of \mathbb{F}_2^3. For an easier example, take A_5 = \langle (1,2,3,4,5) \rangle A_4.

Factorizable groups

Say that a finite group K is factorizable if there exists t > 1 and groups K_1, \ldots, K_t such that K \cong K_1 \times \cdots \times K_t where |K_1| = \ldots = |K_t| \ge 3. If K is factorizable with |K_i| = m for each i, then, since each K_i acts as a regular subgroup of S_m, K is a regular subgroup of S_m \wr S_t in its primitive action on \{1,\ldots,m\}^t. Therefore no factorizable group is a B-group. This example appears as Theorem 25.7 in Wielandt Permutation Groups.

Affine groups

An interesting source of examples is affine groups of the form G = V \rtimes H where V = \mathbb{F}_p^n for some prime p and H \le \mathrm{GL}(V). Here V acts by translation on itself and H is the point stabiliser of 0. Any non-trivial block is invariant under the action of V and so is a linear subspace of V. Therefore G is primitive if and only if H acts irreducibly on V. The action of G is 2-transitive if and only if the point stabiliser H is transitive. Therefore if there exists a linear group H acting irreducibly but not transitively on \mathbb{F}_p^n, then C_p^n is not a B-group.

Symmetric group representations

Consider the symmetric group S_n acting on \langle v_1, \ldots, v_n \rangle by permutation matrices. Let V = \langle v_i - v_j : 1 \le i  2 and n \ge 2 then the orbit of v_1-v_2 does not contain v_2-v_1, and hence C_p^n is not a B-group in these cases. If p = 2 and n \ge 4 then the orbit of v_1+v_2 does not contain v_1+v_2+v_3+v_4. Therefore C_2^m is not a B-group when m is even and m \ge 4.

Exotic regular abelian subgroups of affine groups

An interesting feature of these examples, noted by Li in Remark 1.1 following the main theorem, is that V \rtimes H may have regular abelian subgroups other than the obvious translation subgroup V. Let t_v : V \rightarrow V denote translation by v \in V.
Take n=2r+1, fix s \le r, and consider the subgroup

K = \langle (2,3)t_{v_1+v_2}, \ldots, (2s,2s+1)t_{v_1+v_{2s}}, t_{v_{2s+2}}, \ldots, t_{v_{2r+1}} \rangle .

By the multiplication rule

h t_v h' t_{v'} = h h' t_{vh' + v'}

we see that (2t,2t+1)t_{v_1+v_{2t}} has square t_{v_{2t}+v_{2t+1}} and that the generators of K commute. Therefore K \cong C_4^s \times C_2^{2(r-s)}, and no group of this form, with r \ge 2 is a B-group. (Since these groups are factorizable, this also follows from Wielandt’s result above.)

Li’s paper includes this example: the assumption that n is odd, needed to ensure that V is irreducible, is omitted. In fact it is an open problem to decide when C_2^n is a B-group.

Perhaps surprisingly, this example does not generalize to odd primes. To see this, we introduce some ideas from an interesting paper by Caranti, Della Volta and Sala. Observe that if K is a regular abelian subgroup of G then for each v \in V, there exists a unique g_v \in K such that 0g_v = v. There exists a unique h_v \in H such that g_v = h_v t_v. By the multiplication rule above we have

h_u t_u h_v t_v = h_u h_v t_{uh_v + v} = h_vh_u t_{vh_u+u} = h_vt_vh_ut_u

for all u, v \in V. Therefore \{h_v : v \in V\} is an abelian subgroup of H and uh_v + v = vh_u + u for all u,v \in V. Replacing v with v+w, we have

\begin{aligned} uh_{v+w} + (v+w) &= (v+w)h_u + u \\                  &= vh_u + wh_u + u \\                  &= uh_v + v + uh_w + w - u \end{aligned}

and so, cancelling v+w, we get the striking linearity property

h_{v+w} = h_v + h_w - \mathrm{id}.

Equivalently, h_{v+w}-\mathrm{id} = (h_v-\mathrm{id}) + (h_w-\mathrm{id}). Since (h_v - \mathrm{id})(h_w - \mathrm{id}) = (h_vh_w - \mathrm{id}) - (h_v - \mathrm{id}) - (h_w - \mathrm{id}), it follows that the linear maps \{h_v - \mathrm{id} : v \in V \} form a subalgebra of \mathrm{End}(V). (This is essentially Fact 3 in the linked paper.

Abelian regular subgroups of odd degree affine symmetric groups

Suppose that K is a regular abelian subgroup of V \rtimes S_n and that there exists v \in V such that h_v \not= \mathrm{id}. The matrix M representing h_v in the basis v_2-v_1, \ldots, v_n-v_1 of V is a permutation matrix if 1 h_v = 1. If 1h_v = a > 1 and bh_v = 1 then from

(v_i - v_1)h_v = (v_{ih}-1) - (v_a-v_1)

we see that M has -1 in each entry in the column for v_a-v_1, and the only other non-zero entries are a unique 1 in the row for v_i-v_1, for each i \not= b. For example, (1,2,3,4) is represented by

\left( \begin{matrix} -1 & 1 & 0 \\ -1 & 0 & 1 \\ -1 & 0 & 0 \end{matrix} \right).

By the linearity property above, h_{2v} = 2h_v - \mathrm{id}. But if p > 2 then 2M - I is not of either of these forms. Therefore V is the unique regular abelian subgroup of V \rtimes S_n.

Suppose that p = 2. Suppose that h_v has a cycle of length at least 4. By relabelling, we may assume this cycle is (1,2,\ldots,a) where a is a 2-power. The matrix representing h_v has -1 entries in column 2, and the matrix representing h_v^{-1} has -1 entries in column a. Therefore the matrix representing h_v + h_v^{-1} + \mathrm{id} has -1 entries in both columns 2 and a, and so is not of the permitted form. It follows that, when p=2 and n=2r+1 is odd, the only abelian regular subgroups of V \rtimes S_n are isomorphic to C_4^s \times C_2^{2r-2s}. (In fact it seems they are precisely the subgroups constructed above.)

Abelian regular subgroups of even degree affine symmetric groups

Now suppose that n is even. Let U = V / \langle v_1 + \cdots + v_n \rangle and consider U \rtimes S_n. When n=4 the action of S_4 is not faithful: after factoring out the kernel \langle (1,2)(3,4), (1,3)(2,4)\rangle we get \mathbb{F}_2^2 \rtimes S_3 \cong S_4, which has abelian regular subgroups C_2 \times C_2 and C_4. When n=6, there is an abelian regular subgroup isomorphic to C_8 \times C_2, generated by t_{v_1+v_3}(3,4,5,6) and t_{v_1+v_2}. The obstruction seen above does not apply: for example, in the basis v_1+v_3, v_1+v_4,v_1+v_5,v_1+v_6, we have

(3,4,5,6) + (3,6,5,4) + \mathrm{id} \mapsto \left( \begin{matrix} 1 & 1 & 0 & 1 \\ 1 & 1 & 1 & 0 \\ 0 & 1 & 1 & 1 \\ 1 & 0 & 1 & 1 \end{matrix} \right)

which is the matrix representing (1,2)(3,6,5,4), thanks to the relations present in the quotient module. However, in this case the action of S_6 on \mathbb{F}_2^4 is transitive (any element of U is congruent to some v_i + v_j) and in fact C_8 \times C_2 is a B-group. (A related, remarkable fact, is that the action of A_6 on U extends to a 2-transitive action of A_7, giving an example of a 3-transitive affine group, U \rtimes A_7.) A computer calculation shows that, up to conjugacy, there are also three abelian regular subgroups of U \rtimes S_n isomorphic to C_4 \times C_4 and two isomorphic to C_4 \times C_2 \times C_2. If n \ge 8 then a similar argument to the odd degree case shows that any abelian regular subgroup has exponent at most 4, so we get no new examples.

Elementary abelian subgroups other than V

The following lemma has a simple ad-hoc proof.

Lemma. If n < p then the only regular abelian subgroups of V \rtimes \mathrm{GL}(V) are elementary abelian.

Proof. Suppose that K is an elementary abelian subgroup of V \rtimes \mathrm{GL}(V). Let h_v t_v \in K. Since h_v - 1 is a nilpotent n \times n-matrix and n \textless\; n we have (h_v - 1)^p = 0 The p-th power of h_v t_v \in V is therefore t_w where w = v + vh_v + \cdots + vh_v^{p-1}. Since each Jordan block in h_v has size at most p-1, we have w=0. Therefore K has exponent p. \Box

Note however that there exist elementary abelian subgroups other than the obvious V whenever n \ge 2. Possibly they can be classified by the correspondence with nil-algebras in the Caranti, Della Volta, Sala paper.

Algebra groups

Given n \in \mathbb{N} and a field F, define an algebra group to be a subgroup of \mathrm{GL}_n(F) of the form \{I + X : X \in A \} where A is a nilalgebra of n \times n matrices. (We may assume all elements of A are strictly upper triangular.) The subalgebra property above shows that any abelian regular subgroup of an affine group of dimension n over \mathbb{F}_2 is an extension

1 \rightarrow C_2^r \hookrightarrow K \twoheadrightarrow \{I + X : X \in A \} \rightarrow 1

of an algebra group by an elementary abelian 2-group. If F has characteristic 2 then, since

(I+X)(I+Y) = (I+XY) + (I+X) + (I+Y)

by the dual of the calculation above, a subgroup G of \mathrm{GL}_n(F) is an algebra group if and only if \{ I + g : g \in G \} is additively closed.

An exhaustive search shows that if n \le 4 then every 2-subgroup of \mathrm{GL}_n(\mathbb{F}_2) is an algebra group; note it suffices to consider subgroups up to conjugacy. But when n = 5 there are, up to conjugacy, 110 algebra subgroups of \mathrm{GL}_5(\mathbb{F}_2), and 66 non-algebra subgroups, of which 34 are not isomorphic to an algebra subgroup. Of these:

  • 1 is abelian, namely C_8;
  • 4 are nilpotent of class 2, namely \langle x, c : x^8 = c^2 = 1, x^c = x^5 \rangle, \langle x, y, c : x^4 = y^2 = c^4 = 1, x^c = xy, y^c = y \rangle, \langle x, y, c : x^2 = y^2 = c^8 = 1, x^c = xy, y^c = y \rangle, \langle x,y,c : x^4 = y^2 = c^4 = 1, x^c = xy, y^c = y\rangle;
  • 17 are nilpotent of class 3;
  • 12 are nilpotent of class 4.

The appearance of C_8 is explained by the following lemma, which implies that there is an algebra group isomorphic to C_{2^m} if and only if m \le 2.

Lemma. Let g \in \mathrm{GL}_n(\mathbb{F}_2) have order 2^m. Then \langle g \rangle is an algebra group if and only if all Jordan blocks in g have dimension at most 3.

Proof. Let 1 + X be a Jordan block of g of dimension d and order 2^m. The subalgebra of d\times d-matrices generated by X has dimension d-1, and so has size 2^{d-1}. Therefore if \langle g \rangle is an algebra group then 2^{d-1} \le 2^m. Hence d-1 \le m. On the other hand, since X^{d-1} \not=0, if 2^r < d then (1+X)^{2^r} \not=0, and so the order of 1+X is the minimal s such that 2^s \ge d. Hence 2^{m-1} < d. Combining these inequalities we get

2^{m-1} < d \le m+1

and so m \le 2, and, since d-1 \le m, we have d \le 3. The converse is easily checked. \Box.

A result of Newell on plethysms of symmetric functions

January 7, 2017

It’s often said that part of the unique character of mathematics is that it builds on itself. Old results may be forgotten, but are only very rarely found to be incorrect. But changes in the ‘expected general background’ make many old papers impenetrable. For example, a long standing conjecture of Foulkes was introduced in a paper with the title ‘On the concomitants of the quintic and sextic up to degree four in the coefficients of the ground form‘. How many algebraists working today would immediately know even roughly what it is about? Of them, I’m sure still fewer would expect to read his paper with any pleasure. Certainly I cannot.

The purpose of this post is to do a small, but detailed, translation exercise on a paper of Newell from 1951, with the title ‘A theorem on the plethysm of S-functions‘. This is a relatively late publication from the stable of British algebraists working on invariant theory, so one might hope it would be fairly accessible.


Fix m, n \in \mathbb{N} and let \lambda be a partition of mn. Newell’s paper is cited in an important paper of Weintraub for the pair of results stated verbatim below:

\begin{aligned} ([m+1] \odot [1^n],[\lambda_1+1,\ldots,\lambda_n+1]) &= ([m] \odot [n], [\lambda]) \\ ([m+1] \odot [n],[\lambda_1+1,\ldots,\lambda_n+1]) &= ([m] \odot [1^n], [\lambda])  \end{aligned}.

Weintraub defines all his notation (which was standard for the time) clearly. For example, [\lambda] denotes the irreducible representation of the symmetric group labelled by the partition \lambda, and \odot is the analogue of the plethysm product \circ for the symmetric group, with the variables swapped. Writing s_\lambda for the Schur functions labelled by the partition \lambda, an equivalent statement in the language of symmetric functions is:

\begin{aligned} \langle s_{(1^n)} \circ s_{(m+1)}, s_{\lambda + (1^n)} \rangle &= \langle s_{(n)} \circ s_{(m)}, s_\lambda \rangle  \\ \langle s_{(n)} \circ s_{(m+1)}, s_{\lambda + (1^n)} \rangle &= \langle s_{(1^n)} \circ s_{(m)}, s_\lambda \rangle  \end{aligned}.

Even a careful visual inspection of Newell’s paper reveals nothing that looks remotely like Weintraub’s statement (or my restatement). But in fact, the upper displayed equations are a special case of Newell’s Theorem 1, stated verbatim below:

Theorem 1.

If \{m\} \otimes \{n\} = \sum \{\nu\} where m and n are integers then for any integer k \le n

\sum g_{(1^k)\xi\nu} \{\nu\} = [(m-1)\otimes (1^k)][\{m\} \otimes \{n-k\}].

To be fair to Newell, g is defined earlier: one reads ‘… where g_{rst} is defined from the multiplication of S-functions by means of \{r\}\{s\} = g_{rst}\{t\}‘. So alles klar?

Translation up to Theorem 1

Much of Newell’s notation was standard at its time: \{\nu\} is the Schur function s_\nu and \otimes is the plethystic product corresonding to Weintraub’s \odot. (So again, the order is reversed compared to \circ.) The hypothesis \{m\} \otimes \{n\} = \sum \{\nu\} may still seem a little mysterious to modern eyes, since a general plethysm is certainly not multiplicity-free: nowadays we might write ‘s_{(n)} \circ s_{(m)} = \sum c_\nu s_{\nu} where c_\nu \in \mathbb{N}_0 for each partition \nu of mn‘. Only the g remains to be understood: Newell defines g_{rst} for natural numbers r, s, t, but then uses general partitions as the coefficients. Even in the special case, and with the benefit of knowing what is meant, his definition seems highly unclear to me.

A clue to the correct interpretation is given by the start of the sentence defining g quoted above: ‘It is known [(2) 349] that if \{\lambda\} \otimes \{n\} = \sum \{\nu\} then \sum g_{1\xi\nu} \{\xi\} = \{\lambda\} \otimes \{n-1\}[g_{1\mu \lambda} \{\mu\}] …’. This must be parsed bearing in mind the summation convention that the repeated letters \xi and \mu are summed over. So, in modern language, it says: ‘if s_n \circ s_\lambda = \sum c_\nu s_\nu then

\sum_\nu c_\nu \sum_\xi  g_{1\xi\nu} s_\xi = (s_{(n-1)} \circ s_\lambda)\sum_\mu g_{1\mu\lambda} s_\mu.'

(I have included the parentheses around s_{(n-1)} \circ s_\lambda as a small editorial mercy.) After staring at this for a while, I decided it must express the following symmetric function identity:

(s_{(n)} \circ s_\lambda)\!\downarrow = (s_{(n-1)} \circ s_\lambda)(s_\lambda\!\downarrow),

where s_\lambda\!\downarrow is the sum of all Schur functions s_\mu labelled by partitions \mu obtained from \lambda by removing a box. (This identity is proved below, using the symmetric group.) Reciprocally, we have

\langle s_\lambda\!\downarrow, s_\mu\rangle = \langle s_\lambda, s_{(1)}s_\mu \rangle.

Thus \downarrow is the adjoint to multiplication by s_{(1)}, and Newell’s g_{1\mu \nu} are the corresponding coefficients. Generalizing freely, we can guess the correct definition of g_{\theta\xi \nu}.

Definition. Given partitions \theta, \mu, \nu we define

g_{\theta \mu\nu} = \langle s_\nu, s_\theta s_\mu \rangle.

If we believe this is correct, then after one more piece of guesswork where we amend g_{(1^k)\xi\nu}\{\nu\} in the statement of Theorem 1 to g_{(1^k)\xi\nu}\{\xi\} (making it consistent with the above, and also with the analogous Theorem 1A), the conclusion of Theorem 1 becomes

\sum_\nu c_\nu \sum_\xi \langle s_\xi s_{(1^k)}, s_\nu \rangle s_\xi = (s_{(1^k)}\circ s_{(m-1)})(s_{(n-k)} \circ s_{(m)}).

The left-hand side is

\sum_\xi  \langle s_\xi s_{(1^k)}, \sum_\nu c_\nu s_\nu \rangle s_\xi = \sum_\xi \langle s_\xi s_{(1^k)}, s_{(n)} \circ s_{(m)} \rangle s_\xi.

Therefore Newell’s Theorem 1 can be stated as follows:

\sum_{\xi} \langle s_{\xi} s_{(1^k)}, s_{(n)} \circ s_{(m)} \rangle s_\xi = (s_{(1^k)}\circ s_{(m-1)})(s_{(n-k)} \circ s_{(m)}).

If s_\nu appears in s_{(n)} \circ s_{(m)} then \nu has at most n parts. On the other hand, by Pieri’s rule, s_{\xi}s_{(1^k)} is the sum of all partitions \nu obtained from \xi by adding k boxes, no two in the same column. Therefore, in the special case when k=n, we have

\langle s_\xi s_{(1^n)}, s_{(n)} \circ s_{(m)} \rangle = \langle s_{\xi + (1^n)}, s_{(n)} \circ s_{(m)} \rangle.

Since s_{(0)} \circ s_{(m)} = s_{(0)} = 1, the unit symmetric function, we obtain

\langle s_{\xi + (1^n)}, s_{(n)} \circ s_{(m)} \rangle = \langle s_\xi, s_{(1^n)} \circ s_{(m-1)}\rangle.

This is equivalent to the first displayed equation in my restatement of Weintraub’s version of Newell’s result. The second displayed equation can be translated similarly.

Proof of Theorem 1

We prove Newell’s theorem in the symmetric group, replacing m with m+1 for consistency with Weintraub’s statement. Let \Omega be the collection of all set partitions of \{1,\ldots,(m+1)n\} into n sets each of size m+1, and let M denote the corresponding permutation module for \mathbb{C}S_{(m+1)n} with basis \Omega. In Weintraub’s notation, the permutation character of M is [m+1] \odot [n].

Consider the restricted module M\!\downarrow_{S_k \times S_{(m+1)n-k}}, where S_k permutes \{1,\ldots, k\} and S_{(m+1)n-k} permutes \{k+1,\ldots, (m+1)n\}. The maximal summand of M on which S_k acts as the sign representation is spanned by the symmetrized set partitions v_\mathcal{P} for \mathcal{P} \in \Omega, where

v_\mathcal{P} = \mathcal{P} \sum_{\sigma \in S_k} \sigma \mathrm{sgn}(\sigma).

Observe that v_\mathcal{P} = 0 unless \mathcal{P} has at most one entry from \{1,\ldots, k\} in each of its n constituent (m+1)-sets. If X and Y are two such subsets, with entries x_1, \ldots, x_{m} and y_1, \ldots, y_{m} in \{k+1,\ldots,(m+1)n\} respectively, then

v_\mathcal{P} (x_1,y_1)\ldots (x_{m},y_{m}) = -v_\mathcal{P}.

It follows that

\begin{aligned}\quad [m+1] \odot [n] & \!\downarrow_{S_k \times S_{(m+1)n-k}} \\ & \hskip0.1in =  \mathrm{sgn}_{S_k} \times ([m] \odot [(1^k)])([m+1] \odot [n-k]) + \pi \end{aligned}

where \pi is a sum of irreducible characters of S_k \times S_{(m+1)n-k} not of the form \mathrm{sgn}_{S_k} \times \chi^\tau. By Frobenius reciprocity,

\begin{aligned}  \langle [m+1] \odot [n], & \mathrm{sgn}_{S_k} \times \chi^\xi \uparrow^{S_{(m+1)n}} \rangle \\ &\hskip0.2in = \langle ([m] \odot [(1^k)])([m+1] \odot [n-k]), \chi^\xi \rangle \end{aligned}

for each partition \xi of (m+1)n -k. This is equivalent to

\langle s_{(n)} \circ s_{(m+1)}, s_{(1^k)}s_\xi \rangle = \langle (s_{(1^k)} \circ s_m)(s_{(n-k)} \circ s_{(m+1)}, s_\xi \rangle

which is obtained from my restatement of Newell’s theorem by taking the inner product with s_\xi. The companion result follows by a sign twist. \Box

No wonder old results are frequently reproved: its invariably less work than reading the original.

Henry IV: Donmar at King’s Cross

December 2, 2016

This is a well established production so hardly needs a review, least of all from me, but here goes anyway. Harriet Walter’s performance as the titular King was astonishing: graceful, subtle and slightly knowing. Her command of Shakespeare’s language was superb, and orders of magnitude beyond the rest of the cast. Often this didn’t matter: the ruthless editing of the two parts into a single play meant many more complicated speeches were cut, and robust physical theatricality carried many other parts.

Jade Anouka’s Hospur made every scene she was in sparkle (even her dead body had a commanding presence!). Clare Dunne’s performance as Prince Hal seemed to get stronger throughout the evening. Shakespeare’s comparisons to his earlier play Richard II survived the editing and gave some needed depth to the death-bed scene between father and son in the final act. Sophie Stanton’s Falstaff left me a bit cold. The tavern scene where she and Prince Hal imitate Henry IV (and his likely reaction to Hal’s disportations) was filled with the camaraderie and bouyant wit I expected from Falstaff, but at other times, particularly in the scenes with the lesser actors, she seemed less full of her role.

There was an attempt, not entirely successful I think, to give Prince Hal’s final rejection of Falstaff extra weight by use of the prison setting. This framing also helps to excuse the many clunky props, such as a toy dog, or the assorted lollipops the actors sucked on intermittently, or the fake swords that were unrecognisable as weapons of any sort. Perhaps the point was to emphasise the juvenile nature of much of the early goings on? But to pick a tough comparison, in Lilies, the prison setting works brilliantly to emphasise the key themes: here it sometimes seemed unhelpful. Maybe it works better in the companion plays, Julius Ceasar and The Tempest? That said, there was effective use of the theatre space (the audience sits on all sides—the atmosphere was frequently intense), and some nice symbolism, for example, when Hotspur is slain on top of the prison yard’s basketball court’s centre circle, a map of England and Wales spray-painted around him.

The all female cast helped to bring out the gender themes, for example the generally contemptuous treatment of Mistress Quickly, and the marriage between Lady Percy (played by Sheila Atim, showing great promise) and Hotspur. The programme has an interesting article by Charlotte Higgins on the 2:1 problem: of the 10 theatres that received the most money from the Arts Council, women account for about 1/3 of the board members, artistic directors and actors. Higgins makes the interesting point that the colossal gender balance in Shakespeare (of 981 roles, 826 are men, 155 are women) shapes audience expectations of casts, and has knock-on effects for careers throughout British theatre.

Overall: an enjoyable evening, but certainly not one for the purists.

Sylow subgroups of symmetric groups

November 27, 2016

The purpose of this post is to collect some proof of known results on Sylow subgroups of symmetric groups that are scattered across the literature, and in one case, wrongly stated in the standard reference. Throughout permutations act on the right. Let S_{p^r} denote the symmetric group on \{0,1,\ldots,p^r-1\}.

Rooted trees

Let T_r be the rooted p-ary tree with levels numbered from 0 at the root to r at the leaves. Let T_r(\ell) denote the set of p^\ell vertices at level \ell. We label the vertices in T_r(\ell) by \{0,1,\ldots, p^\ell-1\}, so that \beta \in T_r(\ell+1) is a child of \alpha \in T_r(\ell) if and only if \beta \equiv \alpha mod p^\ell. Thus the children of \alpha \in T_r(\ell) are

\alpha, \alpha + p^\ell, \ldots, \alpha + (p-1)p^\ell \in T_r(\ell+1).

For example, the children of the root vertex \varnothing are labelled 0,1,\ldots, p-1 and correspond to congruence classes modulo p, the children of 1 \in T_r(1) are labelled (in base p) by 01, 11, \ldots, (p-1)1, and correspond to the congruence classes modulo p^2 of numbers congruent to 1 modulo p, and so on. All this may be seen from the tree T_3 for p=3 shown below.

Let \mathrm{Aut}(T_r) be the group of automorphisms of T_r. Any automorphism is determined by its action on the p^r leaves of T_r, so, when it is useful to do so, we regard \mathrm{Aut}(T_r) as a subgroup of the symmetric group S_{p^r}.

Let 0 \le \ell < r. For each vertex \alpha \in T_r(\ell), let g(\alpha) \in \mathrm{Aut}(T_r) fix \alpha and all vertices of T_r that are not a descendant of \alpha, and permute the descendants of \alpha (of any generation) by adding p^{\ell} modulo p^{\ell+1}. More formally, the vertex \alpha + ip^\ell + jp^{\ell+1} where 0\le i < p and 0 \le j < p is sent to \alpha + (i+c \ \mathrm{mod}\  p)p^\ell +jp^{\ell+1}. For example, if r=3 then g(01) = (1,10,19) and

g(1) = (1,4,7)(10,13,16)(19,22,25).

(We rely on the length of the p-ary form of the vertex to indicate the intended level.) Let B(\ell) be the subgroup of \mathrm{Aut}(T_r) generated by all the g(\alpha) for \alpha \in T_r(\ell). Each subgroup B(\ell) is normalized by the B(j) for j < \ell, so P_r = B(r-1) B(r-2) \ldots B(0) is a p-subgroup of S_{p^r}. We have |P_r| = p^e where

e = 1 + p + \cdots + p^{r-1}.

It is well known that the highest power of p dividing n! is \sum_{i \ge 1} \lfloor n/p^i \rfloor, so P_r is a Sylow p-subgroup of S_{p^r}.

We now make the connection with the other standard construction of P_r. Let \phi : P_r \rightarrow P_{r-1} be the group homomorphism defined by restricting g \in \mathrm{Aut}(T_r) to T_r(r-1). Thus \phi(g) describes the action of g on the p^{r-1} vertices at level r-1, or, equivalently, on the p^{r-1} congruence classes of numbers in \{0,1,\ldots,p^r-1\} modulo p^{r-1}.

Lemma 1.P_r is permutation isomorphic to the iterated wreath product C_p \wr (C_p \wr \cdots \wr C_p) with r factors, in its intransitive action.

Proof. By induction \phi(P_r) \cong B(r-2)\ldots B(0) is permutation isomorphic to the imprimitive wreath product with r-1 factors. Therefore B(r-1) \cong C_p^{p^{r-1}} is the base group in a semidirect product B(r-1) \rtimes B(r-2) \ldots B(0) permutation isomorphic to C_p \wr (C_p \wr \cdots \wr C_p) in its imprimitive action. \Box

Centre and normalizer

The centre of P_r and its normalizer in S_{p^r} can be described by slightly more involved inductive arguments. The following elements of P_r will be useful: for 0 \le \ell < r, let z_r(\ell) = \prod_{\alpha \in T_r(\ell)} g(\alpha). For example, if p=3 and r=3 then

\begin{aligned} z_3(0) &= (0,1,2)(3,4,5)(6,7,8)(9,10,11) \ldots (24,25,26), \\  z_3(1) &= (0,3,6)(1,4,7)(2,5,8)(9,12,15)\ldots (20,23,26), \\ z_3(2) &= (0,9,18)(1,10,19)(2,11,20)(3,12,21) \ldots (8,17,26). \end{aligned}

Observe that \phi(z_r(\ell)) = z_{r-1}(\ell) for 0 \le \ell < r-1, and that \phi(z_r(r-1)) = \mathrm{id}.

Lemma 2. Z(P_r) = \langle z_r(r-1) \rangle.

Proof. If r=1 then z_1(0) = (0,1,\ldots,p) generates P_1. Let r \ge 2 and let z \in Z(P_r). By induction \phi(z) \in \langle \phi(z_r(r-2))\rangle. Hence z \in \phi^{-1} \langle \phi(z_r(r-2)) \rangle = B_{r-1} \langle z_{r}(r-2) \rangle. Let z = b z_r(r-2)^i where 0 \le i \le p-1 and b \in B_{r-1}. Since B(r-1) is abelian, we see that z_r(r-2)^i commutes with all permutations in B(r-1). If i\not=0 then there exists \alpha \in T_r(r-1) such that \alpha z \not= \alpha and so

\alpha g(\alpha) z_r(r-2)^i = (\alpha +p^n) z_r(r-2)^i = \alpha + p^{r-1} + ip^{r-2}


\alpha z_r(r-2)^i g(\alpha)  = (\alpha +ip^{r-2}) g_x = \alpha + ip^{r-2},

a contradiction. Therefore i=0 and z = \prod_{\beta \in T_r(r-1)} g(\beta)^{i_\beta} where 0 \le i_\beta < p for each \beta. A similar argument considering the actions of the generators g(\alpha) for \alpha \in T_r(r-2) now shows that i_\beta is independent of \beta, and so g \in \langle z_r(r-1)\rangle. \Box

The normalizer N_{S_{p^r}}(P_r) turns out to be a split extension of P_r. Let c be a primitive root modulo p. Let \alpha \in T_r(\ell). Let h(\alpha) fix \alpha and every vertex that is not a descendant of \alpha and permute the descendants of \alpha (of any generation) by sending \alpha + ip^\ell + jp^{\ell+1} where 0 \le i < \ell and 0 \le j < p^{r-\ell-1} to \alpha + (ci \ \mathrm{mod}\ p)p^\ell + jp^{\ell+1}. Thus h(\alpha) fixes the child 0\alpha of \alpha, and permutes the remaining p-1 children 1\alpha \ldots (p-1)\alpha by a (p-1)-cycle, acting compatibly on their descendants in turn. Let k_r(\ell) = \prod_{\alpha \in T_r(\ell)}h(\alpha). For example, if p=3 and r=3 then h(01) = (12,21), h(1) = (4,7)(13,16)(22,25) and

\begin{aligned}\scriptstyle k_3(0) = (1, 2)(4, 5)(7, 8)(10, 11)(13, 14)(16, 17)(19, 20)(22, 23)(25, 26), \\ \scriptstyle k_3(1) = (3, 6)(4, 7)(5, 8)(12, 15)(13, 16)(14, 17)(21, 24)(22, 25)(23, 26), \\ \scriptstyle k_3(2) = (9, 18)(10, 19)(11, 20)(12, 21)(13, 22)(14, 23)(15, 24)(16, 25)(17, 26).  \end{aligned}

The permutation k_3(0) is shown below.

Proposition 3. N_{S_{p^r}}(P_r) = P_r \rtimes \langle k_r(\ell) : 0 \le \ell < r-1 \rangle.

Proof. Let g \in N_{S_{p^r}}(P_r). By a similar argument to Lemma 1, we have g \in B(r-2)\ldots B(0) \langle k_3(0), \ldots, k_3(r-2) \rangle h where h \in \ker \phi. By composing h with a suitable power of z_r(r-1), we may assume that 0h = 0. Let h^\star denote the permutation induced by h on \{p^{\ell-1},\ldots,(p-1)p^{\ell-1}\}. Since Z(P_r) = \langle z_r(r-1) \rangle is a characteristic subgroup of P_r, it is normalized by g. Therefore h^\star normalizes the p-cycle (0,p^{\ell-1},\ldots,(p-1)p^{\ell-1}) forming part of the disjoint cycle form of z_r(r-1). Therefore h^\star acts on \{p^{\ell-1},\ldots,(p-1)p^{\ell-1}\} as some power of k_r(r-1). Since h normalizes Z(P_r), it follows that h acts compatibly on all the other p-cycles in the disjoint cycle form of z_r(r-1), and so h \in \langle k_r(r-1) \rangle, as required. \Box

In particular, a Sylow 2-subgroup of S_{2^r} is self-normalizing. The following corollary is also immediate from Proposition 3.

Corollary 4. The number of Sylow p-subgroups of S_{p^r} is (p^r)!/p^{e}(p-1)^r where e = 1 + p + \cdots + p^{r-1}. \Box

Derived group

Using the transitive action of P_r on the vertices at each level of T_r, it is not hard to prove the following lemma.

Lemma 5. The derived group P_r' of P_r contains the permutations g_\alpha g_\beta^{-1} for all \alpha, \beta vertices at the same level of T_r. \Box

Corollary 6. The permutations g(\alpha) g(\beta)^{-1} for \alpha, \beta vertices at the same level of T_r generate P_r' and P_r/P_r' \cong C_p^r.

Proof. Let \gamma_\ell \in T_r(\ell) be the vertex labelled 0 at level l of T_r. Let H be the subgroup generated by the permutations g(\alpha) g(\beta)^{-1}. By Lemma 5, \mathrm{Aut}(T_r) is generated by the g(\gamma_\ell) and H. Moreover, the g(\gamma_\ell) commute modulo H. Therefore P_r/H is abelian, and so H = P_r', with the permutations g(\gamma_\ell) generating the quotient group. \Box

Weisner’s counting argument

In On the Sylow subgroups of the symmetric and alternating groups,
Amer. J. Math. 47 (1925), 121–124, Louis Weisner gives a counting argument that, specialized to P_r, claims to show that P_r has exactly (p^r)!/p^e (p-1)^e Sylow p-subgroups, where, as above e = 1 + p + \cdots + p^{r-1}. The exponent of p is correct, but by Corollary 4, the exponent of p-1 is too large. Weisner’s error appears to be on page 123, where he implicitly assumes that Sylow subgroups of S_{p^r} with the same base group are equal. This is false whenever p \not= 2 and r \ge 2: for example

\begin{aligned} \langle (036), (147), (258) \rangle \rtimes \langle (012)(345)(678) \rangle, \\ \langle (063), (147), (258) \rangle \rtimes \langle (012)(378)(645) \rangle \end{aligned}

are distinct.

An alternative reference for the correct result is La structure des p-groupes de Sylow des groupes symétriques finis, Léo Kaloujnine, Ann. Sci. École Norm. Sup. (3) 65 (1948), 239–276: see page 262. In the footnote, Kaloujnine notes that, in general, the action of N_{S_{p^r}}(P_r) on P_r does not induce the full automorphism group. Indeed, when p=2 and r=2, the base group \langle (02), (13)\rangle of the wreath product

C_2 \wr C_2 = \langle (02), (13), (01)(23) \rangle

is not even a characteristic subgroup of C_2 \wr C_2. For more on this see On the structure of standard wreath products of groups, Peter M. Neumann, Math. Z. 84 1964, 343–373.

The mistake in Weisner’s paper is pointed out on page 73 of an M.Sc. thesis by Sandra Covello.

Final remarks

Lower central series

The lower central series of P_r was found by Weir in The Sylow subgroups of the symmetric groups, Proc. Amer. Math. Soc. 6 (1955) 534–541. Another description is given in the paper of Kaloujnine. There has been much further related work: see for example Lie algebra associated with the group of finitary automorphisms of p-adic tree, N. V. Bondarenko, C. K. Gupta V. I. Sushchansky, J. Algebra 324 (2010), 2198–2218 and the references to earlier papers therein. Using Lemma 6, one gets the description in Proposition 8 below. (This is almost certainly equivalent to a result in Kaloujnine’s paper stated using his formalism of tableaux polynomials, but the close connection with cyclic codes seems worth noting.)

Definition 7. Let P_r^m be the mth term in the lower central series of P_r, so P_r^1 = P_r' and P_r^m = [P_r, P_r^{m-1}] for m \ge 2. Let B(\ell,m) = P_r^m \cap B(\ell) for 0 \le s < r.

Let V = \mathbb{F}_p^{p^\ell}. Index coordinates of vectors in V by the set \{0,1,\ldots,p^{\ell}-1\} labelling the vertices in T_r(\ell). Given v \in V, we may define a corresponding element of B(\ell) by \prod_{\alpha=0}^{p^\ell-1} g(\alpha)^{v_\alpha}. This sets up a bijective correspondence between subgroups of B(\ell) and subspaces of \mathbb{F}_p^{p^\ell}. In turn, a subspace of \mathbb{F}_2^{p^\ell} invariant under the shift map sending (v_0,\ldots,v_{p^\ell-2},v_{p^\ell-1}) to (v_{p^\ell-1},v_0, \ldots, v_{p^\ell-2}) corresponds to an ideal in \mathbb{F}_p[x]/(x^{p^\ell}-1). (This is a basic observation in the theory of cyclic error-correcting codes.)

Proposition 8. We have

P_r^m = B(r-1,m)B(r-2,m) \ldots B(0,m)

where B(\ell, m) corresponds to the ideal in \mathbb{F}_p[x]/(x^{p^\ell}-1) generated by (x-1)^m.

Proof. Under the correspondence above, multiplication by x corresponds to conjugation by (0,1,\ldots,p^{\ell}-1) \in P_\ell. Each B(\ell,m) is invariant under conjugation by P_r, so we see that the subspaces of V corresponding to the B(\ell,m) are all x-invariant. Hence they are ideals in \mathbb{F}_p[x]/(x^{p^\ell}-1). It is easily seen by induction that (x-1)^m is in the ideal corresponding to B(\ell,m). Since the lower central series is strictly decreasing, and (x-1)^m generates an ideal of codimension m, the proposition follows. \Box

Corollary 9. Let M be the natural permutation module for P_r, defined over a field of characteristic p. Then the socle series for M and the radical series for M coincide; the mth term (from the top) in either is the image of (t-1)^m where t = (0,1,\ldots, p^r). \Box

Thus the radical and socle series of M considered just as an \mathbb{F}_p\langle t \rangle-module coincide with the radical and socle series of M as an \mathbb{F}_pP_r-module. This is not really unexpected: the trivial module is the unique simple \mathbb{F}\langle t \rangle-module, and M is uniserial even when considered as an \mathbb{F}_p\langle t \rangle-module. Still, it seems non-obvious without this injection of theory that \mathrm{im}(t-1)^m = \mathrm{ker}(t-1)^{p^r-m} is P_r-invariant.

It is a nice exercise to find the decomposition of the analogously defined permutation module over \mathbb{C}: it has exactly p-1 summands of dimension p^\ell for each \ell \in \{1,\ldots, r-1\} and p 1-dimensional summands, affording the characters of P_r / B(r-1)\ldots B(1) \cong C_p. The correspondence after Definition 7 can also be used to prove this conjecture.

Proposition 10. There are (p-1)^r conjugacy classes of p^r-cycles in P_r. All p^r-cycles in N_{S_{p^r}}(P_r) are conjugate.

Sketch proof. We take the special case r=2. Let g \in P_2 \cong C_p \wr C_p. In the notation of Chapter 4 of The representation theory of the symmetric group, Encyclopedia of Mathematics and its Applications, vol. 16, Addison-Wesley 1981), we have

g = (h^{a_0},\ldots,h^{a_{p-1}}; t )

where h generates a copy of C_p and t is a non-identity power of (0,1,\ldots, p-1). For simplicity, assume that t = (0,1,\ldots,p-1). The base group part of g corresponds to (a_0,\ldots,a_{p-1}) \in \mathbb{F}_p^p. Let c = a_0 + \cdots + a_{p-1}. The identity

x^k = k^{-1}xk = k^{-1}xkx^{-1} h = k^{-1}k^{x^{-1}} h

implies that

\begin{aligned} (h^{a_0}&,\ldots,h^{a_{p-1}}; t)^{(h,1,\ldots,1; 1)} \\ &= (h^{-1},1,\ldots,1)(h,1,\ldots,1)^{t^{-1}}(h^{a_0},\ldots,h^{a_{p-1}};t) \\        &= (h^{-1},1,\ldots,1)(1,h,\ldots,1)(h^{a_0},\ldots,h^{a_{p-1}}; t) \\        &= (h^{a_0-1},h^{a_1+1},\ldots,h^{a_{p-1}};t). \end{aligned}
The new base group part corresponds to (a_0-1,a_1+1,\ldots,a_{p-1}). Similarly by conjugating by (1,h,\ldots,1), and so on, we can shift any two adjacent positions as above. It follows that the conjugacy class of g contains all elements (h^{b_0},\ldots,h^{b_{p-1}}; t) such that b_0 + \cdots + b_{p-1} = c. By the general theory in the reference above, the conjugacy class is no larger. Extending the action to the normalizing group, Proposition 3 implies that any non-zero sum can be attained. \Box

Automorphism groups of cyclic codes

The previous section implies that the automorphism group of a p-ary cyclic code of length p^r contains a Sylow p-subgroup of S_{p^r}. In fact we get more: provided we label positions in the sensible way, so that the cyclic shift is (0,1,\ldots,p^r-1), the automorphism group contains our distinguished Sylow subgroup S_{p^r}. The results on N_{S_{p^r}}(P_r) above can be used to give a more powerful version of a result of Brand on equivalences of codes.

Proposition 11. Cyclic codes C and C' of length p^r are equivalent if and only if they are equivalent by an element of \langle k_r(\ell) : 0 \le \ell < r-1 \rangle.

Proof. Let Cg= C'. We have seen that P_r \le \mathrm{Aut}(C) and P_r \le \mathrm{Aut}(C'). Hence C'g^{-1}P_rg = C' so P_r^g \le \mathrm{Aut}(C'). By Sylow’s Theorem, there exists h \in \mathrm{Aut}(C') such that P_r^{gh} = P_r. Let gh = k \in N_{S_{p^r}}(P_r). Clearly we have C' = C'h = Cgh = Ck. Now apply Proposition 3 to k. \Box

For comparison, Brand’s result (see Lemma 3.1 in Polynomial isomorphisms of combinatorial objects, Graphs and Combinatorics 7 7–14) says that, for codes of arbitrary length, if P is a Sylow p-subgroup of C, then the equivalence may be assumed to conjugate (0,1,\ldots,p^r-1) to another permutation in P.

Application to Sylow’s Theorem

Let G be a finite group of order n. If G acts transitively on a set of size coprime to p then any point stabiliser contains a Sylow p-subgroup of G. The existence of Sylow subgroups of S_n gives a very convenient setting to exploit this observation. By letting G act regularly on itself, we may regard G as a subgroup of S_n. Fix a Sylow p-subgroup P of S_n. The coset space S_n/P has size coprime to p. Let Pg be in an orbit of G of size coprime to p and let H \le G be the stabiliser of Pg. Now PgH = Pg implies that gHg^{-1} is a subgroup of P, so gHg^{-1} is a p-subgroup of G of order divisible by the highest power of p dividing |G|.

Intransitivity of derived group

By Corollary 6, any permutation in P_r' permutes amongst themselves the odd and even numbers in \{0,1,\ldots,p^r-1\}. Hence P_r' is not transitive. More generally, let Q \le S_n be a transitive p-group. By embedding Q in a Sylow p-subgroup P of S_n, we see that Q' \le P' is not transitive. Of course this can be proved in many other ways: for example, if Q' is transitive then Q = RQ' where R is a point stabiliser. But Q' \le \Phi(Q), where \Phi(G) is the Frattini subgroup of `non-generators’ of Q, so we have Q = R, a contradiction.

Automorphisms of permutation groups

Let G \le S_n be a transitive permutation group. It is natural to ask when every automorphism of G is induced by the action of N_{S_n}(G). For example, this is the case whenever G acts regularly.

Magma code

MAGMA code constructing all the permutations and groups defined in this post is available here.