Azumaya algebras of period 2 with involution
Albert showed that a central simple algebra A over a field F admits an involution of the first kind, i.e. an F-antiautomorphism of order 2, if and only if the order of the Brauer class of A in the Brauer group of F divides 2.
Azumaya algebras are generalizations of central simple algebras, defined over an arbitrary commutative base ring (or scheme), and can be used to define the Brauer group of a commutative ring. They play an important role in the study of classical groups over schemes.
Albert's theorem fails in the more general setting where A is an Azumaya algebra over a commutative ring R. However, Saltman showed that in this case there is an Azumaya algebra B that is Brauer equivalent to A and admits an involution of the first kind. Knus, Parimala and Srinivas later showed that one can in fact choose B such that deg(B) = 2*deg(A).
I will discuss a joint work with Ben Williams and Asher Auel where we use topological obstructions to show that deg(B) = 2*deg(A) is optimal when deg(A)=4. More precisely, we construct a regular commutative ring R and an Azumaya R-algebra A of degree 4 and period 2 such that the degree of any Brauer equivalent algebra B admitting an involution of the first kind divides 8.
If time permits, I will also discuss examples of Azumaya algebras admitting only symplectic involutions and no orthogonal involutions. This stands in contrast to the situation in central simple algebras where the existence of a symplectic involution implies the existence of an orthogonal involution, and vice versa if the degree is even.