Posts filed under ‘english’

Elliptic curves for high school students

I had to give a talk to high school students about some mathematical notion: I decided to tell them something about elliptic curves, but not the usual speech about cryptography, finite fields and the group law on a cubic curve…

Instead, I talked about the perhaps less known appearances of elliptic functions as solutions of classical ODEs (even if I don’t really know much about these myself). The simplest mechanical system whose motion is governed by an elliptic curve is the pendulum: the reason for this is that the ODE \ddot{x} + \sin x = 0 which classically describes the time evolution of the angle of the pendulum is best rewritten in terms of the altitude of the pendulum: the law of energy conservation is then written as
p^2 = q(q-q_0)(q-2l) = P(q)
where 0 and 2l are the extremal values of the altitude q, q_0 is the highest altitude which can be reached with a given energy (even if q_0 > 2l, which corresponds to the pendulum make full rotations around its axis), and p is the vertical momentum of the pendulum.

In this setting, there are classical Hamilton relations dq = p dt, dp = P'(q) dt, so the differential form dt = dq/p turns out to be the canonical non-vanishing abelian differential on the elliptic curve. This explains why the period of the pendulum is an elliptic integral, which can be calculed by an arithmetic-geometric mean, and why the position of the pendulum at t = t_1 + t_2 can be deduced from its position at times t_1 and t_2 by the classical secant-tangent law.

The notes for the talk (in French) are available here.

11 May 2009 at 8:08 pm Leave a comment

Cardboard associahedron

After the dodecahedron comes the cardboard associahedron : it represents the combinatorics of moving parentheses to calculate an associative product of five things step by step. The vertices of the associahedron are thus the 14 different binary trees with 5 leaves.

Associahedron 1

Given four factors, there are exactly five ways of multiplying them using a binary operation: by moving parentheses according to the associativity rule, you go through five different trees in a cyclic way. This is known as MacLane’s pentagon coherence rule, which states that in not too weak notions of monoid, checking coherence for pentagon diagrams ensures that the definition of the product is well-behaved.

8 April 2009 at 12:11 am Leave a comment

Cardboard dodecahedron

I made a cardboard dodecahedron for the needs of a talk.

Cardboard dodecahedron

If you draw 5-coloured stars on all facets, by choosing smartly the colours, you can get five coloured cubes whose vertices are vertices of the dodecahedron. This trick can be used to show that the symmetry group of the dodecahedron is the alternate symmetric group \mathcal A_5: it replaces a star by a star with a different arrangement of colours.

Since there are 12 facets and 5 ways of rotating each of them, 60 colourings can be seen by rotating the dodecahedron by direct isometries. However, it is NOT true that you can see the 120 possible colourings by allowing also reflections (the full isometry group of the dodecahedron is the symmetric group on five colours). An easy reason for this is that the colouring is invariant under symmetry through the central point (which is a determinant -1 transformation). You can also argue that reflections act as double transpositions of the colours of a star.

People also talk about five tetrahedra in a isocahedron, which can also be obtained in the dodecahedron by choosing a tetrahedron in each cube in a consistent way. The tetrahedra have faithful action of the isometry group: there are two sets of five tetrahedron, which are exchanged under signature -1 transformations, and even permutations of the tetrahedra correspond to direct isometries.

6 April 2009 at 12:01 am Leave a comment

Computing Gröbner bases in Haskell

I wrote a small package to compute Gröbner bases in Haskell with the Buchberger algorithm (with applications to variable elimination). Performance is quite bad compared to specialised software like Macaulay, but it seems to work ! I put a Cabal package here. Maybe I’ll add several functions afterwards.

A testcase :
import Data.Polynomial
import Data.Ring
import Algebra.GroebnerBasis
import Algebra.Elimination
type R = Polynom QQ VarXYZ
[x,y,z,t,u,v] = map returnp [X,Y,Z,T,U,V] :: [R]
-- projection from a point on the intersection of quadrics
main = do
print $ step_eliminate [T] $ MakeIdeal
[x^2 - 3*y*z + z*t + 2*x*t,
z^2 + 5*y^2 + z*x - 2*t*z]

The output should be :

20 March 2009 at 7:47 pm Leave a comment

Schemes in algebraic geometry 3 : glued schemes and sheaves

André Weil was among the first ones to point out the importance of having a local description of varieties, especially projective spaces, which can always locally be described as an affine space with completion by a hyperplane at infinity, and projective varieties, which similarly look like varieties in affine space. The use of sheaves in local description of spaces was magnified by Cartan and Serre, in the context of complex analytic spaces, and generalised to the algebraic setting by Serre in Faisceaux algébriques cohérents.

The projective space is the simplest example of an algebro-geometric object which cannot be described by the prime spectrum or the functor of points of a ring. For example, there is no obvious ring whose ideals describe varieties in projective space, which come from homogeneous equations. We would like to give a correct definition of gluing affine lines (with coordinates z and 1/z) to define the projective line \mathbb P^1 as the gluing of \mathbb A^1 with \mathbb A^1 \to \mathbb P^1 given by z \mapsto 1/z. For functors of points, the latest article by Alain Connes and Caterina Consani, gives a definition. For prime spectra, one has to be aware that gluing only topological spaces do not give meaningful information on algebraic properties. This is illustrated by the case of differentiable manifolds, which are not the same as topological manifolds: gluing differentiable manifolds has to induce a correspondance between differentiable functions (this is equivalent to the requirement that gluing maps between charts be differentiable).

17 March 2009 at 12:35 am Leave a comment

Why can we have a Fast Fourier Transform ?

The Fourier transform was introduced by Fourier as a tool to solve heat equations, but is now used in its discrete version throughout the computing world more than trillions of times each second. It is probably more, I was assuming an average computer does billions of Discrete Cosine Transforms per day for Web browsing (JPEG images and Youtube) and music listening, but how huge is the contribution of millions of people watching MPEG-2 compressed television programs on satellite or terrestrial digital broadcasting?

It is thus important to know that the Fourier transform (which is always the Fast Fourier Transform) is really fast (especially when it is dozens, hundreds of times faster than the natural algorithm). I am not yet sure about the fast versions of variants of the discrete transform (cosine transforms and its friends), but I guess they can be derived from the classical case.

What is it ?

The classical Fourier transform takes a T-periodic function f and computes for each integer n the integral

f_n = \frac 1 {\sqrt T} \int_0^T f(t) \exp(-ni\omega t) dt

where \omega = 2\pi/T. It separates f into components having period T/n, and has the property that the energy E(f) = \frac 1 T \int |f(t)|^2 dt is the sum \sum |f_k|^2.

The discrete Fourier transform takes a discrete function given by x = (x_0, x_1, \dots, x_{n-1}) and computes the discrete analogue

y_p = \sum_{q = 0}^{n-1} x_q \exp(-2i\pi \frac{pq}{n})


12 March 2009 at 3:23 pm 3 comments

Schemes in algebraic geometry 2 : prime spectra and generic points

I just explained how the affine plane could be described by the ring \mathbb Z[x,y]. A point M of the affine plane whose coordinate ring is R is a morphism \mathbb Z[x,y] \to R defined by the assignment P \mapsto P(a,b) \in R, where (a,b) are the coordinates of M. In the case of points corresponding to morphisms \mathbb Z[x,y] \to \mathbb Z, there is a natural way of recovering the point from the ring morphism by looking at his equations, which are elements of the kernel of the morphism. If M satisfies the equations x=a and y=b, then M has the form (a,b). This motivates the abstract definition of point of the affine plane as a morphism \mathbb Z[x,y] \to R to some ring.

Conversely, the set of equations of M defines a canonically associated point p_M, which is the morphism \mathbb Z[x,y] \to \mathbb Z[x,y]/I, where I is the ideal generated by the equations. But this morphism has no reason to totally recover M if it wasn’t a point with integral coordinates. For example, the point (2,3) is a special point, satisfying a lot of equations, which characterize it. But (\log 2, \pi) do not satisfy any polynomial equations with integral coefficients, so the set of its equations is empty, and cannot be used to recover it. Moreover, the point (e, \log 3) does not satisfy equations either: their algebraic properties are exactly the same. These points are called generic.

The prime spectrum of a ring is a convenient way of describing equivalence classes of points of a given ring.
Definition. The prime spectrum of A = \mathbb Z[x,y] is the set of points p_I: A \to A/I for prime ideals I. If M: A \to R is any point of the affine plane with coordinates in an integral domain R, then Mis canonically associated to some p_M := p_I, where I is the kernel of the map A \to R.

10 March 2009 at 10:07 pm 2 comments

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