Whitehead published two papers in 1936 on free groups. Both concerned decision problems for equivalence of (sets of) elements under automorphisms. The first focused on primitive elements (those that appear in some basis), the second looked at arbitrary sets of elements. While both of the resulting algorithms are combinatorial, Whitehead's proofs that these algorithms actually work involve some nice manipulation of surfaces in 3-manifolds. We will have a look at how this works for primitive elements. I'll outline some generalizations due to Culler-Vogtmann, Gertsen, and Stallings, and if we have time talk about how it fits in with some of my current work.
- Junior Topology and Group Theory Seminar