To understand where the definitions of schemes even come from, we
must first study classical algebraic geometry. The set-up is as
follows:

Let
be a an algebraically
closed field. This means that if
is a
polynomial, every root of
is already in
. This is an important
condition for technical reasons (Intuitively, since we are interested in
zero sets of polynomials, we do not want ’missing information’ in the
form of missing would-be vanishing points). Algebraic Geometry
originated with the study of polynomials over the complex numbers.

We consider
, i.e.
-tuples of elements of
. We can think of
multivariate polynomials
as functions
by plugging
in an
-tuple of elements of
into the variables of
.

We want to study sets which are "carved out" by multivariate
polynomials. For example, the polynomial equation
, or,
rewritten
defines a
circle over the real numbers (I know I said we are working with
algebraically closed fields, but it is much easier to picture the real
numbers).

More generally, we define an affine algebraic set (Also called an affine
variety), which will be our objects of interest as follows:

Definition: Let
be a set of polynomials, define the set
, the
algebraic set defined by
via
Note that for a point
, if
then
,
and if
then
. This
closure under addition and absorption tells us that we can pass to
ideals, i.e. if
is the
ideal generated by
(i.e. the smallest
ideal containing it) then
.
This will hopefully allow us to draw algebraic information from the
geometric information of the algebraic set. We can refine this further,
but we will wait until later to do so. For now, we define the Zariski
Topology:

Definition: The __Zariski Topology__ on
is defined by
declaring the algebraic sets as the closed sets. Verify for yourself
that the following holds:

If are ideals, then so these sets are closed under finite unions.

If is a family of ideals, then , so these sets are closed under aribtrary intersections.

and (Since no point, not even vanishes on constant nonzero polynomials).

So the algebraic sets have the exact properties of closed sets in a
topological space. If you’ve never seen this, it might be weird to think
as a topology as being defined by its closed sets, but since closed and
open sets are just complements of each other, declaring the closed sets
is the same as declaring the open sets (And the properties they have to
satisfy are dual).

Moreover, the Zariski Topology is quite weird. For example, it is almost
never Hausdorff (In fact, a lot open sets are dense in closed sets! If
is closed and
irreducible, i.e. not the union of two smaller closed sets, then every
nomepty open subset of
in the subspace
topology is dense, so every two nonempty open sets intersect
nontrivially). Nonetheless, it is useful for reasoning about varieties,
and among other things, gives the correct notion of ’dimension’.

We now give an open basis for the topology:

Let
,
and let
i.e. the set of all points on which
is nonzero. Note that
this is the complement of
,
i.e. the set of all points on which
is
, hence it is open.
Now, this is a basis for the Zariski topology, since if
is an ideal defining
a closed set
, then consider the
union
.
Convnice yourselves that
,
since a point isn’t in the zero locus of
iff it doesn’t vanish
under one of the polynomials of
, so
are a basis for
the Zariski Topology.

Note that we can also go the other way, i.e. we can talk about ideals
that are determined by subsets of
:

Let
, then
the ideal defined by
is
This is dual to the previous definition. Verify for yourselves that this
is an ideal. Now the natural question is what is
? It turns out
that this is the smallest algebraic set containing
:

Theorem:
,
i.e. the smallest closed set in the Zariski Topology containing
is
.

*Proof.* An equivalent characterisation of the closure is the
intersection of all closed sets containing
, hence by definition
.
Converesly, let
. We shall
prove that
is in
.
Concretely, this means that every polynomial that vanishes on
vanishes on
as well
(
cannot be ’separated’
from
by
polynomials).

Indeed, let
be a polynomial that
vanishes on
, then
, but
, hence
, simple as that
we have
. ◻

In particular, if we start with an algebraic set
, then
.
It is now natural to ask what is
for an ideal
, in order to be able
to characterise the family of ideals for which
,
(i.e. ideals
coming from Algebraic subsets), and establish a correspondence between
algebraic sets (Which we restrict to because they give
) and these
ideals
Note that this
correspondence is also order reversing, if
then
(It
is easier to vanish on less points) and if
then
(It
is easier to a vanishing point of less polynomials).

The previous theorem showed that
is a left inverse to
on algebraic sets. It
turns out that we need to restrict our attention to a more specific type
of ideal. In particular, suppose that
is the ideal of an
algebraic set. Suppose that
is a polynomial such
that
, then
for all
, but
if and only if
(Here we mean we
are taking the polynomial to the
-th power), hence
as
well.

Such ideals are called __Radical Ideals__, and the wonderful
Hilbert’s Nullstellensatz tells us that this is the exact property that
characterises the ideals of variaties. It is also important in giving us
the motivation for schemes:

Theorem: (Hilbert’s Nullstellensatz): Let
be an ideal, then
Although the proof is quite nice, we skip it here for brevity, we are
only skimming this story after all, and even so there is still so much
to do and define! As a corollary, we get that there is a bijective
correspondence given by
and
between algebraic
sets and __Radical__ ideals, since
for a
radical ideal. Note that if
, then
by the Nullstellensatz, since
is radical (the
proof given for
for
an algebraic set
works for a general subset
as well), so ideals
do not distinguish between algebraic sets and their closures, just like
algebraic sets don’t distinguish between subsets and the (radical)
ideals generated by them.

Moreover, it gives us the following important corollary:

Corollary: The maximal ideals of
are
in bijective correspondence to points
,
in particular
,
and

*Proof.* First, let
. Note that
,
hence
.
Conversely, if
, then note
that
, but this means
that in the quotient
we have
,
so
.
It is possible to see this in more concrete ways as well: we can define
.
Now we have
Now if we just show that
, then
every other term will be in
,
hence we will have
.
Indeed, we have
as all other terms vanish and
by
assumption, hence
.

Now, suppose that we have
with
,
then for every
, we have
,
hence
, so
for all
, hence
. This shows
injectivity of the correspondence

Finally, we show surjectivity: Let
be a
maximal ideal, then
is
nonempty (By the Nullstellensatz, otherwise we would have
).
Let
,
then
(Here we are using the order-reversing property + the Nullstellensatz),
hence by maximality
.
This shows that the ideal
is indeed maximal, completing the proof. ◻

This lays the ground for classical algebraic geometry, but keep in
mind there is a whole world of theory that we have not discussed and
will not be getting into. Just keep in mind that there are a lot of
powerful theorems and techniques.

This correspondence between maximal ideals (purely algebraic) and points
(geometric) gives a natural idea of how to generalise the powerful
techniques of classical algebraic geometry and use them to study
arbitrary commutative rings: Just substitute maximal ideals for points,
and follow the geometry (Define a Zariski Topology on the sets of
maximal ideals so that it acts as in the classical case, in particular
it should make
homeomorphic to
via the
identification of maximal ideals and points). We shall explore this
method and see if it holds up next time. In particular, we give some
more motivation through coordinate rings.

## Comments

Was quite surprised at this order of exposition!

For context, I’ve learned Nullstellensatz from Hulek, which states it as follows:

, and proceeds to prove these in order: maximal-ideals part via Zariski’s lemma, existence-of-zeros trivially from there, and via Rabinowitch’s trick. So deriving maximal-ideals as a corollary

kind ofreads circular: didn’t we need it to prove NSS?But, as I understand, these three are all equivalent (separately from being true), and there’re other proofs of NSS (not routing through maximal-ideals?), so this way is also valid. (Or for that matter, if we trust NSS now and derive maximal-ideals from it, but re-prove maximal-ideals later in the course of proving NSS, that’s also valid.)

It is very common to first prove Zariski’s Lemma and that use that to prove the Nullstellensatz, but there are many paths to this proof. Indeed, the proof I was first exposed to in my Commutative Algebra course first proved a much more general Nullstellensatz related to Jacobson Rings, from which all the claims easily follow.

For this write-up I wanted to emphasize the correspondence between radical ideals and algebraic sets, because I think it’s important to notice it subsumes the points to maximal ideals correspondence. I think it is also pedagogically worthwhile to see more than one path to the proof. In particular, there are constructive proofs of the Weak Nullstellensatz, which one can upgrade using Rabinowitch’s Trick to Hilbert’s Nullstellensatz or even using Gröbner Bases.

While pedagogically I think it’s correct to see Zariski’s lemma first (At least the first time you prove the theorem) I allowed myself to call this a corollary because, well, it’s true, and i’m expositing about the gener structure of varieties and algebraic geometry, and I think this order is more correct for the general flow I was going for (In particular I like noticing that points already give maximal ideals, but Hilbert’s Nullstellensatz is exactly the tool we need to go back, so it completes this Galois Connection of I and V).