- This definition can be applied in particular to square matrices. The matrix
- is nilpotent because A3 = 0. See nilpotent matrix for more.
- Assume that two elements a,b in a (non-commutative) ring R satisfy ab=0. Then the element c=ba is nilpotent (if non-zero) as c2=(ba)2=b(ab)a=0. An example with matrices (for a,b):
- Here .
The nilpotent elements from a commutative ring form an ideal; this is a consequence of the binomial theorem. This ideal is the nilradical of the ring. Every nilpotent element in a commutative ring is contained in every prime ideal of that ring, and in fact the intersection of all these prime ideals is equal to the nilradical.
If x is nilpotent, then 1 − x is a unit, because xn = 0 entails
- (1 − x) (1 + x + x2 + ... + xn−1) = 1 − xn = 1.
Nilpotency in physics
As linear operators form an associative algebra and thus a ring, this is a special case of the initial definition. More generally, in view of the above definitions, an operator Q is nilpotent if there is n∈N such that Qn=o (the zero function). Thus, a linear map is nilpotent iff it has a nilpotent matrix in some basis. Another example for this is the exterior derivative (again with n=2). Both are linked, also through supersymmetry and Morse theory, as shown by Edward Witten in a celebrated article.
- E Witten, Supersymmetry and Morse theory. J.Diff.Geom.17:661-692,1982.
- A. Rogers, The topological particle and Morse theory, Class. Quantum Grav. 17:3703-3714,2000 Template:Doi.de:Nilpotenz