In mathematics, a group is a set and an operation that combines any two elements of the set to produce a third element of the set, in such a way that the operation is associative, an identity element exists and every element has an inverse. These three axioms hold for number systems and many other mathematical structures. For example, the integers together with the addition operation form a group. The concept of a group and the axioms that define it was elaborated for handling, in a unified way, essential structural properties of very different mathematical entities such as numbers, geometric shapes and polynomial roots. Because the concept of groups is ubiquitous in numerous areas both within and outside mathematics, some authors consider it as a central organizing principle of contemporary mathematics.
In geometry groups arise naturally in the study of symmetries and geometric transformations: The symmetries of an object form a group, called the symmetry group of the object, and the transformations of a given type form a general group. Lie groups appear in symmetry groups in geometry, and also in the Standard Model of particle physics. The Poincaré group is a Lie group consisting of the symmetries of spacetime in special relativity. Point groups describe symmetry in molecular chemistry.
The concept of a group arose in the study of polynomial equations, starting with Évariste Galois in the 1830s, who introduced the term group (French: groupe) for the symmetry group of the roots of an equation, now called a Galois group. After contributions from other fields such as number theory and geometry, the group notion was generalized and firmly established around 1870. Modern group theory—an active mathematical discipline—studies groups in their own right. To explore groups, mathematicians have devised various notions to break groups into smaller, better-understandable pieces, such as subgroups, quotient groups and simple groups. In addition to their abstract properties, group theorists also study the different ways in which a group can be expressed concretely, both from a point of view of representation theory (that is, through the representations of the group) and of computational group theory. A theory has been developed for finite groups, which culminated with the classification of finite simple groups, completed in 2004. Since the mid-1980s, geometric group theory, which studies finitely generated groups as geometric objects, has become an active area in group theory.