# Minimal polynomial (field theory)

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Minimal polynomial (field theory)

In field theory, given a field extension E / F and an element α of E that is an algebraic element over F, the minimal polynomial of α is the monic polynomial p, with coefficients in F, of least degree such that p(α) = 0. The minimal polynomial is irreducible over F, and any other non-zero polynomial f with f(α) = 0 is a (polynomial) multiple of p.

Proof: Let E / F be a field extension over F as above, $\alpha \in$ E, and $f \in$ F[x] a minimal polynomial. Suppose f = g * h where $g,h \in$ F[x]\F. Hence f(α) = 0. Since fields are also integral domains, we have that g(α) = 0 or h(α) = 0. As both the degrees of both g and h are smaller than the degree of f, we get a contradiction as f does not have a minimal degree. We conclude that minimal polynomials are irreducible.

For example, for $F = \mathbb{Q}, E = \mathbb{R}, \alpha = \sqrt 2$ the minimal polynomial for α is p(x) = x2 − 2.

If $\alpha = \sqrt 2 + \sqrt 3$

then $p(x) = x^4 - 10 x^2 + 1 = (x - \sqrt 2 - \sqrt 3)(x + \sqrt 2 - \sqrt 3)(x - \sqrt 2 + \sqrt 3)(x + \sqrt 2 + \sqrt 3)$

is the minimal polynomial.

The base field F is important as it determines the possibilities for the coefficients of p(x). For instance if we take $F = \mathbb{R}$, then $p(x) = x - \sqrt 2$

is the minimal polynomial for $\alpha = \sqrt 2$.

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