Difference algebra

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Difference algebra is a branch of mathematics concerned with the study of difference (or functional) equations from the algebraic point of view. Difference algebra is analogous to differential algebra but concerned with difference equations rather than differential equations. As an independent subject it was initiated by Joseph Ritt and his student Richard Cohn.

Difference rings, difference fields and difference algebras

A difference ring is a commutative ring together with a ring endomorphism . Often it is assumed that is injective. When is a field one speaks of a difference field. A classical example of a difference field is the field of rational functions with the difference operator given by . The role of difference rings in difference algebra is similar to the role of commutative rings in commutative algebra and algebraic geometry. A morphism of difference rings is a morphism of rings that commutes with . A difference algebra over a difference field is a difference ring with a -algebra structure such that is a morphism of difference rings, i.e. extends . A difference algebra which is a field is called a difference field extension.

Algebraic difference equations

The difference polynomial ring over a difference field in the (difference) variables is the polynomial ring over in the infinitely many variables . It becomes a difference algebra over by extending from to as suggested by the naming of the variables.

By a system of algebraic difference equations over one means any subset of . If is a difference algebra over the solutions of in are

Classically one is mainly interested in solutions in difference field extensions of . For example, if and is the field of meromorphic functions on with difference operator given by , then the fact that the gamma function satisfies the functional equation can be restated abstractly as .

Difference varieties

Intuitively, a difference variety over a difference field is the set of solutions of a system of algebraic difference equations over . This definition has to be made more precise by specifying where one is looking for the solutions. Usually one is looking for solutions in the so-called universal family of difference field extensions of .[1][2] Alternatively, one may define a difference variety as a functor from the category of difference field extensions of to the category of sets, which is of the form for some .

There is a one-to-one correspondence between the difference varieties defined by algebraic difference equations in the variables and certain ideals in , namely the perfect difference ideals of .[3] One of the basic theorems in difference algebra asserts that every ascending chain of perfect difference ideals in is finite. This result can be seen as a difference analog of Hilbert's basis theorem.


Difference algebra is related to many other mathematical areas, such as discrete dynamical systems, combinatorics, number theory or model theory. While some real life problems, such as population dynamics, can be modeled by algebraic difference equations, difference algebra also has applications in pure mathematics. For example, there is a proof of the Manin-Mumford conjecture using methods of difference algebra.[4] The model theory of difference fields has been studied.

See also


  1. ^ Cohn. Difference algebra.  Chapter 4
  2. ^ Levin. Difference algebra.  Section 2.6
  3. ^ Levin. Difference algebra.  Theorem 2.6.4
  4. ^ Hrushovski, Ehud (2001). "The Manin–Mumford conjecture and the model theory of difference fields". Annals of Pure and Applied Logic. 112 (1): 43–115. doi:10.1016/S0168-0072(01)00096-3. 


External links

  • Wibmer, Michael (2013). Lecture Notes - Algebraic difference equations (PDF). pp. 80 pages. 
  • The home page of Zoé Chatzidakis has several online surveys discussing (the model theory of) difference fields.
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