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G2and the rolling ball

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Understanding the exceptional Lie groups as the symmetry groups of simpler objects is a long-standing program in mathematics. Here, we explore one famous realization of the smallest exceptional Lie group, G2.Its Lie algebra g2acts locally as the symmetries of a ball rolling on a larger ball, but only when the ratio of radii is 1:3. Using the split octonions, we devise a similar, but more global, picture of G2:it acts as the symmetries of a ‘spinorial ball rolling on a projective plane’, again when the ratio of radii is 1:3. We explain this ratio in simple terms, use the dot product and cross product of split octonions to describe the G2incidence geometry, and show how a form of geometric quantization applied to this geometry lets us recover the imaginary split octonions and these operations.

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