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In mathematics, a unipotent element r of a ring R is one such that r − 1 is a nilpotent element, in other words such that some power (r − 1)n is zero.

In particular a square matrix M is a unipotent matrix if and only if its characteristic polynomial P(t) is a power of t − 1. Equivalently, M is unipotent if all its eigenvalues are 1.

The term quasi-unipotent means that some power is unipotent, for example for a diagonalizable matrix with eigenvalues that are all roots of unity.

A unipotent affine algebraic group is one all of whose elements are unipotent (see below for the definition of an element being unipotent in such a group).

Unipotent algebraic groups

An element x of an affine algebraic group is unipotent when its associated right translation operator rx on the affine coordinate ring A[G] of G is locally unipotent as an element of the ring of linear endomorphism of A[G] (Locally unipotent means that its restriction to any finite-dimensional stable subspace of A[G] is unipotent in the usual ring sense).

An affine algebraic group is called unipotent if all its elements are unipotent. Any unipotent algebraic group is isomorphic to a closed subgroup of the group of upper triangular matrices with diagonal entries 1, and conversely any such subgroup is unipotent. In particular any unipotent group is a nilpotent group, though the converse is not true (counterexample: the diagonal matrices of GLn(k)).

If a unipotent group acts on an affine variety, all its orbits are closed, and if it acts linearly on a finite-dimensional vector space then it has a non-zero fixed vector. In fact, the latter property characterizes unipotent groups.

Unipotent groups over an algebraically closed field of any given dimension can in principle be classified, but in practice the complexity of the classification increases very rapidly with the dimension, so people[who?] tend to give up somewhere around dimension 6.

Over the real numbers (or more generally any field of characteristic 0) the exponential map takes any nilpotent square matrix to a unipotent matrix. Moreover, if U is a commutative unipotent group, the exponential map induces an isomorphism from the Lie algebra of U to U itself.

Unipotent radical

The unipotent radical of an algebraic group G is the set of unipotent elements in the radical of G. It is a connected unipotent normal subgroup of G, and contains all other such subgroups. A group is called reductive if its unipotent radical is trivial. If G is reductive then its radical is a torus.

Jordan decomposition
Main article: Jordan–Chevalley decomposition

Any element g of a linear algebraic group over a perfect field can be written uniquely as the product g = gugs of commuting unipotent and semisimple elements gu and gs. In the case of the group GLn(C), this essentially says that any invertible complex matrix is conjugate to the product of a diagonal matrix and an upper triangular one, which is (more or less) the multiplicative version of the Jordan–Chevalley decomposition.

There is also a version of the Jordan decomposition for groups: any commutative linear algebraic group over a perfect field is the product of a unipotent group and a semisimple group.

See also

unipotent representation
Deligne–Lusztig theory


A. Borel, Linear algebraic groups, ISBN 0-387-97370-2
Borel, Armand (1956), "Groupes linéaires algébriques", Annals of Mathematics. Second Series (Annals of Mathematics) 64 (1): 20–82, doi:10.2307/1969949, JSTOR 1969949
Popov, V.L. (2001), "unipotent element", in Hazewinkel, Michiel, Encyclopedia of Mathematics, Springer, ISBN 978-1-55608-010-4
Popov, V.L. (2001), "unipotent group", in Hazewinkel, Michiel, Encyclopedia of Mathematics, Springer, ISBN 978-1-55608-010-4
Suprunenko, D.A. (2001), "unipotent matrix", in Hazewinkel, Michiel, Encyclopedia of Mathematics, Springer, ISBN 978-1-55608-010-4

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