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The six symmetries of an equilateral triangle (three rotations, three reflections) form a group under the composition operation.

A group is a mathematical structure that abstracts the behavior of symmetries acting on an object. It consists of a set with a given binary operation on it satisfying certain axioms.

Groups are extremely useful throughout mathematics, and are central to the theory of polytopes. Lots of research on polytopes has been devoted to studying their most symmetric classes, including regular and uniform polytopes. The ways in which these are symmetric may be described with groups, including symmetry groups and automorphism groups.

Definition[edit | edit source]

A group is a set together with a binary operation (that is, the operation is closed) such that:

  • For any , . (Associativity)
  • There exists such that for any . (Identity element)
  • For any there exists such that . (Inverse elements)

The identity element may alternatively be notated as . If the operation is thought of as some form of addition, the identity element may be notated as , and the inverse of may be notated as .

A group is further called commutative or abelian if it satisfies the additional axiom:

  • For any , . (Commutativity)

In general, abelian groups use additive notation, while non-abelian groups use multiplicative notation.

Examples[edit | edit source]

The following are examples of groups.

  • The integers form a group under addition. The identity element is and any number has an inverse .
  • The symmetries of an equilateral triangle form a group under composition, i.e. applying one symmetry after the other. The composition of any two symmetries gives another symmetry. The identity element is the trivial symmetry (the “do-nothing” symmetry), and every symmetry has an inverse symmetry that reverts it (e.g. 120° clockwise rotation is reverted by 120° counterclockwise rotation). This symmetry group is called A2.
  • The automorphisms of a triangle also form a group under composition. As it turns out, this group has exactly the same structure as A2 – they are isomorphic.

Equivalence between groups[edit | edit source]

Very rarely is exact equality between groups a useful notion. A much more useful notion is that of an isomorphism. Two groups and are said to be isomorphic whenever there exists a bijective function such that

for any .

However, when dealing with symmetry groups, this can be too loose of a notion. For instance, the symmetry group H3 of the icosahedron and the symmetry group A4+ of the pentachoron are isomorphic, yet clearly deserve to be distinguished as they concern Euclidean spaces of different dimensions. Even symmetry groups in the same dimension can be isomorphic but describe different sets of polytopes, such as those of the pentagonal prism and pentagonal antiprism. We instead classify symmetry groups up to conjugacy. Two symmetry groups and in the same space are said to be conjugate whenever there exists some isometry such that:

The intuition is that the two symmetry groups are conjugate if they are related to each other by a distance-preserving "change of basis." For example, translating a polytope in Euclidean space does not change its symmetry group, nor does transforming it by any other isometry.

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]