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David Erickson

Undergraduate Computer Science Major at the University of Puget Sound

I.

INTRODUCTION

with his family to England 14 years later.

He attended the Trinity College of

Cambridge and began publishing

mathematical papers at the age of 20.

Upon completing his degree and

receiving several distinguished honors,

he received a fellowship at Trinity

College and stayed there for three years

before pursuing a legal career. It wasn't

until two decades later that he returned

to more scholarly pursuits by accepting a

newly created position at Cambridge,

which he held until his death in 1895. By

his departure, he had written 966

mathematical articles and his Collected

Mathematical Papers (1889-1898) filled

13 volumes.

square matrix with the property that all

entries along the main diagonal are the

value 1, the others being zero. This

special matrix is denoted by In and has

the unique property such that for any m *

n matrix A, Im * A = A = A * In, where Ix is

a square matrix of x by x dimensions.

Thus it returns the original matrix.

However, the identity matrix is far more

useful than performing the equivalent of

multiplying by the number one. For

instance, a linear system of equations has

a unique solution if and only if its

reduced row echelon form is the identity

matrix.1 It is also a requirement for an

invertible matrix to be a square matrix

and be the identity matrix when in

reduced

row

echelon

form.2

Furthermore, a matrix and its inverse

multiplied in either order will give you

the identity matrix. The identity matrix

shows up in all types of proofs and

definitions and is applicable in a variety

of situations.

It

is

customary

among

mathematicians to view Arthur Cayley as

the creator of an algebra of matrices.3

More specifically, creating a matrix

based derivation of algebra that did not

require the repeated reference to the

equations from which those entries were

based. His creation included, among

other things, the discovery of the everimportant identity matrix.

Dave Erickson

II. A2 = A

matrices, the query I pose to you is this:

can you find all square matrices,

invertible and not, for which A2 = A?

But what might this have to do with an

identity matrix? Well, after some deal of

contemplating the problem, the most

obvious solution came forth. Clearly, a

zero matrix will not change if raised to

the second power, or any other power for

that matter. But what other matrices will

return the original matrix? The identity

matrix will! For that will produce the

matrix it was given through matrix

multiplication. So if it is given itself, it

should return itself. Therefore, any size

Page 1

8/16/2015

return the original identity matrix. But,

surely there must be more solutions than

those two. I attempted to break down the

problem even further. I realized that even

parts of the identity matrix will return

themselves. For instance, given a 2 * 2

matrix,

, and part of

a b

cd

that the other two entries form a filled

row or column with the main diagonal

entry. This solution is true because the

entry of one along the main diagonal

will automatically copy that row or

column entry for entry. And if the only

non-zero entries are along that row or

column, the resulting matrix will then

be the same as the beginning matrix.

These conditions seem to apply to a

matrix of any size, but are not the sole

solutions for that matrix. And as the

size of the matrix increases, the

complexity of the restrictions expands.

Therefore, I conclude that the only

solutions that hold for square matrices

of any size are the zero, partial and full

identity matrix. However, I am unable

to form a plan of attack to analyze this

problem on a larger scale. For, simply

using arbitrary matrices forms

equations much too complex for me to

solve.

It was most obvious that the zero

matrix would be a solution. And, in

retrospect, it makes perfect sense that

parts of or the whole identity matrix

would satisfy the condition as well.

For it is the main property of the

identity matrix that it returns what it

was given. So if you give it itself, it

will return itself. A partial identity

matrix is just a technique of isolating a

particular column or row. And if the

two multiplied matrices are identical,

then the column or row with entries

will be replicated, thus returning the

same matrix.

1 0

00

containing a and c. But if we are

always multiplying two identical

matrices, the column which the partial

identity returns is the column or

columns with a one entered in the main

diagonal. So a and c are replaced by

the corresponding entries in the partial

identity matrix. You can see then, that

this solution would work for any size

expansion of the identity matrix.

Simply put, if a square matrix contains

only zeros, with the exception of

filling any or all of the entries along

the main diagonal with ones, then it

will return itself upon squaring.

There are other matrices that also

form a solution to this problem, but in

a more limited fashion. For a 2 x 2

matrix solution you simply need a

matrix with the properties that there be

only one entry along the main

diagonal, that being a one, and one

entry along the opposing diagonal,

being any number you please. This

solution, however, does not apply to a

3 x 3 matrix. Instead, the requirements

for a 3 x 3 matrix are as follows: that it

contain only one entry along the main

diagonal, that being a one; that it have

Dave Erickson

III.

Page 2

CONCLUSION

8/16/2015

arbitrary

the

entries

and

solving

conditions which, when applied, will

IV.

REFERENCES

reasonable proof which describes every

possible

solution.

But

while

my

Hill, 1997

trivial, they utilize certain facts that are

Inc., 1971

multiply it against. But this solution also

gives you a simple way to isolate a

specific column in a matrix. Simply

multiply any matrix with a zero matrix

of corresponding size with a one in the

Dave Erickson

Page 3

8/16/2015

Fact 1.3.4 - Bretscher, Otto Linear Algebra Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1997

Fact 2.3.3 - Bretscher, Otto Linear Algebra Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1997

3

Burton, David M. The History of Mathematics. New York, NY: McGraw Hill, 1997

2

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