Archive for January, 2010

Heron’s formula

Heron’s formula for the area of a triangle with side lengths a, b, c is

K = \sqrt{s(s - a)(s - b)(s - c)}

where s = \frac{a + b + c}{2} is the semiperimeter. Today I’d like to try to prove this using as little geometry as possible.


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In this post I’d like to give a better (by which I mean category-theoretic) definition of the lattice of ideals than the standard one. We know that the lattice of ideals has meets and joins defined by intersection and sum, respectively, and that if a lattice is viewed as a category whose arrows are the order relation, then meet and join are the product and coproduct, respectively. But we also know that the lattice of radical ideals of a finitely-generated reduced integral \mathbb{C}-algebra R is dual to the lattice of algebraic subsets of \text{MaxSpec } R (and that the lattice of prime ideals is dual to the lattice of algebraic subvarieties), and there is a very general category-theoretic formalism for understanding subobjects in a category. It turns out that this formalism reproduces the lattice of ideals of an arbitrary commutative ring – as long as we run it in the opposite category \text{CRing}^{op}.

Edit, 2/9/10: The above claim is wrong. But let me tell you the construction I had in mind and you can judge whether it is more natural than the usual definition.


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In the previous post we showed that the splitting behavior of a rational prime p in the ring of cyclotomic integers \mathbb{Z}[\zeta_n] depends only on the residue class of p \bmod n. This is suggestive enough of quadratic reciprocity that now would be a good time to give a full proof.

The key result is the following fundamental observation.

Proposition: Let q be an odd prime. Then \mathbb{Z}[\zeta_q] contains \sqrt{ q^{*} } = \sqrt{ (-1)^{ \frac{q-1}{2} } q}.

Quadratic reciprocity has a function field version over finite fields which David Speyer explains the geometric meaning of in an old post. While this is very much in line with what we’ve been talking about, it’s a little over my head, so I’ll leave it for the interested reader to peruse.


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If you haven’t seen them already, you might want to read John Baez’s week205 and Lieven le Bruyn’s series of posts on the subject of spectra. I especially recommend that you take a look at the picture of \text{Spec } \mathbb{Z}[x] to which Lieven le Bruyn links before reading this post. John Baez’s introduction to week205 would probably also have served as a great introduction to this series before I started it:

There’s a widespread impression that number theory is about numbers, but I’d like to correct this, or at least supplement it. A large part of number theory – and by the far the coolest part, in my opinion – is about a strange sort of geometry. I don’t understand it very well, but that won’t prevent me from taking a crack at trying to explain it….

Before we talk about localization again, we need some examples of rings to localize. Recall that our proof of the description of \text{Spec } \mathbb{C}[x, y] also gives us a description of \text{Spec } \mathbb{Z}[x]:

Theorem: \text{Spec } \mathbb{Z}[x] consists of the ideals (0), (f(x)) where f is irreducible, and the maximal ideals (p, f(x)) where p \in \mathbb{Z} is prime and f(x) is irreducible in \mathbb{F}_p[x].

The upshot is that we can think of the set of primes of a ring of integers \mathbb{Z}[\alpha] \simeq \mathbb{Z}[x]/(f(x)), where f(x) is a monic irreducible polynomial with integer coefficients, as an “algebraic curve” living in the “plane” \text{Spec } \mathbb{Z}[x], which is exactly what we’ll be doing today. (When f isn’t monic, unfortunate things happen which we’ll discuss later.) We’ll then cover the case of actual algebraic curves next.


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