Group Theory 10: Factor Groups (Quotient Groups)

Let $G$ be a group and $N\leq G$. Recall the equivalence relation $\sim$ on $G$ defined by
$$a\sim b\ \mbox{if}\ ab^{-1}\in N$$ for any $a,b\in G$. Each equivalence class $[a]$ is identified with right coset $Na$. The quotient set $G/\sim$ is the set of all equivalence classes or equivalently all right cosets of the subgroup $N$ in $G$. A question we can ask is can we give a group structure to the quotient set $G/\sim$? The answer is affirmative if $N$ is a normal subgroup of $G$. This is what we are going to discuss in this lecture.

Let $N\vartriangleleft G$. Denote by $G/N$ the set of all right cosets of $N$ in $G$ i.e.
$$G/N=\{Na:a\in G\}.$$
For any $Na, Nb\in G/N$,
\begin{align*}
(Na)(Nb)&=N(aN)b\\
&=N(Na)b\\
&=N(Nab)\\
&=Nab.
\end{align*}
So, it appears that if $N\vartriangleleft G$, we may define an operation $\cdot$ on $G/N$ naturally from the binary operation on $G$ by the equation \begin{equation}
\label{eq:cosetoper}
Na\cdot Nb=Nab
\end{equation} for any $Na,Nb\in G/N$. But is this operation well-defined? To see that let $Na=Nc$ and $Nb=Nd$. Then $Nac^{-1}=N$ and $Nbd^{-1}=N$. So $ac^{-1}\in N$ and $bd^{-1}\in N$. Now,
\begin{align*}
N(ac)(bd)^{-1}&=N(ac)(d^{-1}b^{-1})\\
&=Na(cd^{-1})b^{-1}\\
&=a(Ncd^{-1})b^{-1}\\
&=aNb^{-1}\\
&=Nab^{-1}\\
&=N.
\end{align*}
That is, $Na\cdot Nb=Nab=Ncd=Nc\cdot Nd$. Hence, right coset operation given by the equation \eqref{eq:cosetoper} is well-defined. Conversely, if $N\leq G$ and right coset operation given by the equation \eqref{eq:cosetoper} is well-defined, then $N$ must be a normal subgroup of $G$. The verification of this is left to readers as an exercise. Furthermore, $Ne=N$ is an identity element in $G/N$ and for each $Na\in G/N$, $Na^{-1}\in G$ and $NaNa^{-1}=N$, hence $(Na)^{-1}=Na^{-1}$. Therefore, $(G/N,\cdot)$ is a group. This group is called a factor group or a quotient group of $G$ modulo $N$.

Theorem. If $N\vartriangleleft G$ then there exists an onto homomorphism (an epimorphism) $\psi:G\longrightarrow G/N$ such that $\ker\psi=N$, Such a homomorphism is called a natural homomorphism or a canonical homomorphism.

Proof. Define $\psi: G\longrightarrow G/N$ by
$$\psi(a)=Na$$
for any $a\in G$. If $a=b$ then $\psi(a)=Na=Nb=\psi(b)$ so $\psi$ is well-defined. Let $Na\in G/N$. Then $a\in G$ and $\psi(a)=Na$, so $\psi$ is onto. $\psi(ab)=Nab=NaNb=\psi(a)\psi(b)$, hence $\psi$ is a homomorphism. To show that $\ker\psi=N$,
\begin{align*}
a\in\ker\psi&\Longleftrightarrow \psi(a)=N\\
&\Longleftrightarrow Na=N\\
&\Longleftrightarrow a\in N.
\end{align*}

$G/N$ is the set of all right coset of $N$ in $G$, so $|G/N|=|G:N|=\frac{|G|}{|N|}$.

Example. Since $\mathbb{Z}$ is an abelian group, for any $n\in\mathbb{N}$, $n\mathbb{Z}$ is a normal subgroup of $\mathbb{Z}$. So, for any $n\in\mathbb{N}$, $\mathbb{Z}/n\mathbb{Z}$ is a factor group. Each $\mathbb{Z}/n\mathbb{Z}$ is indeed isomorphic to $\mathbb{Z}_n$.

The notion of factor groups can be used to prove an important theorem in group theory called Cauchy Theorem. First we study the following theorem as we will also need it (actually its corollary) to prove Cauchy Theorem.

Theorem. Let $G$ be a finite group and $a\in G$ with $|a|=n$. Then for any $k\in\mathbb{Z}$,

  1.  $|a^k|=\frac{n}{d}$ where $d=(k,n)$.
  2.  $|a^k|=n$ if and only if $(k,n)=1$.

Proof. Since 2 follows from 1, we prove 1 only. Since $d=(k,n)$, $n=n_1d$ and $k=k_1d$ for some $n_1,k_1\in\mathbb{Z}$ such that $(n_1,k_1)=1$.
$$(a^k)^{n_1}=a^{k_1n}=(a^n)^{k_1}=e.$$ So, if we let $|a^k|=s$, then $s|n_1$. On the other hand, $e=(a^k)^s=a^{ks}$, so $n|ks$ which implies that $n_1|k_1s$. Since $(n_1,k_1)=1$, $n_1|s$. Therefore, $s=n_1=\frac{n}{d}$.

Corollary. If a finite group $G$ has no nontrivial subgroup, then $G$ must be a cyclic group of a prime order.

Proof. Let $a\ne e\in G$. Then $\langle a\rangle\leq G$. Since $G$ has no nontrivial subgroup and $a\ne e$, $\langle a\rangle=G$ i.e. $G$ is a cyclic group. Let $|a|=n$. If $k\ne n$ and $k|n$. Then by the above theorem $|a^k|=\frac{n}{k}$ since $(n,k)=k$. Since $a^k\ne e$ and $G$ has no nontrivial subgroup, $\langle a^k\rangle=G$. This implies that $|a^k|=n$ and so $k=1$. Therefore, $n$ is a prime.

Theorem. [Cauchy] If $G$ a finite abelian group and and $p||G|$ where $p$ is a prime, then $G$ has an element of order $p$.

Proof. We prove the theorem by induction on $|G|$. If $|G|=1$, then there is no prime that divides $|G|$, so the theorem is vacuously true. Suppose that the statement is true for all abelian groups whose order is less than $|G|$. Let $\{e\}\not\leq N\not\leq G$. If $p||N|$, then by induction hypothesis there exists $a\in N$ such that $|a|=p$. Since $N\subset G$, we are done in this case. Now suppose that $p\not|N|$. Since $G$ is abelian, $N\vartriangleleft G$. Since $p|G$ and $p\not| N$, $p||G/N|<|G|$. So by induction hypothesis, $G/N$ has an element $Na$ of order $p$.
$$(Na)^p=Na^p=N\Longrightarrow a^p\in N$$
but $a\not\in N$ since $Na\ne N$. Let $|N|=m$. Then $e=(a^p)^m=(a^m)^p$. Let $b=a^m$. If $b\ne e$, then $b$ is an element of order $p$. What if $b=a^m=e$? If so, $(Na)^m=N$. Since $|Na|=p$, $p|m=|N|$. but by assumption $p\not||N|$. A contradiction! So, we are done if $G$ has a nontrivial subgroup. What if $G$ does not have a nontrivial subgroup? If so, by corollary above $G$ must be a cyclic group of a prime order. Since $p||G|$, $|G|=p$. In this case, any $a\ne e\in G$ is an element of order $p$.

Remark. It should be noted that Cauchy Theorem still holds even if the group $G$ is not abelian. We will not however prove the generalized version of Cauchy Theorem here.

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