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Yufei Zhao

September 22, 2009

Appetizer problem

(This problem doesnt actually use determinants.)

Problem 1. Do there exist square matrices A and B such that AB BA = I?

Solution. No. Take the trace of both sides and using tr(AB) = tr(BA), we get that tr(ABBA) = 0

while tr(I) = 0.

1. Introduction

In this talk Ill discuss some techniques on dealing with determinants that may be useful for the

Putnam exam. We will focus on the evaluation and manipulation of determinants. I wont talk

about applications of determinants to, say, combinatorics (maybe another time).

We will assume familiarity with basic properties of determinants. Just a reminder, if A =

(a

ij

)

1i,jn

is an n n matrix, then

det A =

Sn

sgn()a

1(1)

a

2(2)

a

n(n)

where the sum is taken over all permutations of {1, 2, . . . , n}.

Heres an outline of techniques used to deal with determinants.

Evaluation

Row and column operations

Expansion by minors

Setting variables / Vandermonde

Eigenvalues / circulant matrices

Manipulation

Assume invertibility

Block decomposition

Conjugation and positivity

2. Evaluation of determinants

Ill talk about how to evaluate determinants when the entries are given.

The most basic (and often extremely useful) method is row/column operations and minor

expansions. Though I wont discuss them here, since I want to talk more exciting techniques.

The rst example is everyones favorite Vandermonde determinant.

Problem 2 (Vandermond determinant). Let

V =

_

_

_

_

_

1 x

1

x

2

1

x

n1

1

1 x

2

x

2

2

x

n1

2

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

1 x

n

x

2

n

x

n1

n

_

_

_

_

_

.

Show that

det V =

1i<jn

(x

j

x

i

).

1

2

Solution. Let

p(x

1

, x

2

, . . . , x

n

) = det V,

viewed as a polynomial in n variables. Now, suppose we view p as a single-variable polynomial in

x

1

with coecients in Q(x

2

, . . . , x

n

). If we set x

1

to x

i

, for any i = 1, then two rows of the matrix

are equal and hence the determinant vanishes, and therefore (x

1

x

i

) must be a factor of p.

Similarly, every (x

i

x

j

) for i = j is a factor of p(x

1

, . . . , x

n

). But the degree of p is

1

2

n(n1) (from

looking at the matrix), and we just showed that

1i<jn

(x

j

x

i

) (which has degree

1

2

n(n 1))

divides p. Therefore,

p(x

1

, x

2

, . . . , x

n

) = k

1i<jn

(x

j

x

i

),

for some constant k. Comparing the coecient of the term x

2

x

2

3

x

3

4

x

n1

n

shows that k = 1.

Our next example is the circulant matrix.

Problem 3 (Circulant matrix). Let

C =

_

_

_

_

_

_

_

a

0

a

1

a

2

a

n1

a

n1

a

0

a

1

a

n2

a

n2

a

n1

a

0

a

n3

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

a

1

a

2

a

3

a

0

_

_

_

_

_

_

_

Then

det C =

n1

j=0

_

n1

k=0

jk

a

k

_

where = e

2i/n

.

Solution. We know that the determinant equals to the product of the eigenvalues. The eigenvectors

of C are

v

0

=

_

_

1

1

1

.

.

.

1

_

_

v

1

=

_

_

1

2

.

.

.

n1

_

_

v

2

=

_

_

1

4

.

.

.

2(n2)

_

_

v

n1

=

_

_

1

n1

2(n1)

.

.

.

(n1)

2

_

_

.

They are independent because of the Vandermonde determinant, so they form a complete set of

eigenvalues. The corresponding eigenvectors are

0

= a

0

+ a

1

+ a

2

+ + a

n1

1

= a

0

+ a

1

+ a

2

2

+ + a

n1

n1

= a

0

+ a

1

n1

+ a

2

2(n1)

+ + a

n1

(n1)

2

Thus det C =

0

1

n1

.

Now you have the tools to solves the following problem, which appeared as Putnam 1999/B5.

The highest score on his problem was 2 points by one contestant! By this measure, it is one of

the most dicult Putnam problems in history; but knowing the above technique is becomes not so

bad.

Problem 4 (Putnam 1999/B5). Let n 3. Let A be the nn matrix with A

jk

= cos(2(j +k)/n).

Find det(I + A).

3

3. Manipulation of matrices

Now Ill discuss some techniques on dealing with determinants of matrices without knowing their

entires. We will make repeated uses of the fact that det AB = det Adet B for square matricies.

Problem 5. Let A and B be n n matrices. Show that det(I + AB) = det(I + BA).

Solution. First, assume that A is invertible. Then

det(I + AB) = det(A(I + BA)A

1

) = det Adet(I + BA) det(A

1

) = det(I + BA).

Now we give two ways of working around the assumption that A is invertible.

Method 1. For any t R, let A

t

= A tI. Then A

t

is non-invertible precisely when t is

an eigenvalue of A. Thus, if t is not an eigenvalue, then det(I + A

t

B) = det(I + BA

t

). Now,

det(I +A

t

B) det(I +BA

t

) is a polynomial in t which vanishes everywhere except for the nitely

many eigenvalues; hence det(I + A

t

B) det(I + BA

t

) = 0 for all t. Setting t = 0 gives the result.

Method 2. View the entries of A and B as indeterminants, so that what we are proving is a

polynomial identity in {a

ij

} {b

ij

}. Work over the eld Q(a

11

, . . . , b

11

, . . . ). Then in this eld, A

is invertible, and the proof works.

Remark. The set of invertible matrices form a Zariski (dense) open subset, and hence to verify a

polynomial identity, it suces to verify it on this dense subset.

Remark. The statement is also true when A and B are not square matrices. Specically, suppose

that A is an n m matrix, and B an mn matrix, then det(I

n

+AB) = det(I

m

+BA). To prove

this fact, extend A and B to square matrices by lling in zeros.

The technique of assuming invertibility is very powerful. Let us give another example.

Problem 6. Let A, B, C, D be n n matrices such that AC = CA. Prove that

det

_

A B

C D

_

= det(AD CB).

Solution. First assume that A is invertible. Then

_

I O

CA

1

I

__

A B

C D

_

=

_

A B

O D CA

1

B

_

,

so that

det

_

A B

C D

_

= det

_

A B

O D CA

1

B

_

= det Adet(D CA

1

B)

= det(AD ACA

1

B) = det(AD CB).

(We used the fact that A and C commute.)

Now we need to get rid of the invertibility assumption. Let A

t

= A tI. Since AC = CA, we

get A

t

C = CA

t

for all t. It follows that

det

_

A

t

B

C D

_

= det(A

t

D CB).

whenever t is not an eigenvalue of A. But this is a polynomial equation in t, which holds for all

but nitely many ts, and hence it must hold for all t. In particular, setting t = 0 gives the desired

result.

Finally, let us look at a few problems involving inequalities.

Problem 7. Let A be a square matrix with real entries. Show that det(A

2

+ I) 0.

4

One way to solve this problem is to look at the eigenvalues of A. If the eigenvalues of A are {

i

}

(as a multiset, i.e., counting multiplicities), then the eigenvalues of A

2

+I are {

2

i

+1}, and hence

det(A

2

+ 1) =

i

(

2

i

+ 1). Finally use the fact that all non-real eigenvalues

i

come in conjugate

pairs.

Here is a much slicker solution.

Proof. We have A

2

+ I = (A + iI)(AiI). So

det(A

2

+ I) = det(A + iI) det(AiI) = det(A + iI)det(A + iI) = |det(A + iI)|

2

0.

Problem 8. Let A, B, C be nn real matrices that pairwise commute and ABC = O. Show that

det(A

3

+ B

3

+ C

3

) det(A + B + C) 0.

Solution. Recall the identity

A

3

+ B

3

+ C

3

3ABC = (A + B + C)(A + B +

2

C)(A +

2

B + C)

where = e

2/3

is a third root of unity. We used the assumption that A, B, C pairwise commute.

Hence,

det(A

3

+ B

3

+ C

3

) det(A + B + C) = det(A

3

+ B

3

+ C

3

3ABC) det(A + B + C)

= (det(A + B + C))

2

det(A + B +

2

C) det(A +

2

B + C)

= (det(A + B + C))

2

det(A + B +

2

C)det(A + B +

2

C)

0.

Problem 9. Let A and B be two nn real matrices that commute. Suppose that det(A+B) 0.

Prove that det(A

k

+ B

k

) 0 for all k 1

Problem 10. Let A be real skew-symmetric square matrix (i.e., A

t

= A). Prove that det(I +

tA

2

) 0 for all real t.

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