Hecke operators act on many invariants associated to modular curves and their generalizations. For example, they act on modular forms and on cohomology groups of modular curves. In each of these cases, they generate a semi-simple, commutative algebra. In the first part of this talk, I will recall (in friendly, elementary, geometric terms) what Hecke operators are and how they act on the standard invariants. I will then show that they also act on loops in modular curves (aka, conjugacy classes in modular groups). In this case, the Hecke operators generate a non-commutative subalgebra of the vector space generated by the conjugacy classes, which leads to a very natural non-commutative generalization of the classical Hecke algebra. In the second part of the talk will discuss why one might want do construct such a Hecke action. As a prelude to this, I will explain why this Hecke action commutes with the natural action of the absolute Galois group after taking profinite completions. And, in the unlikely event that I have sufficient time, I will also explain how (after taking the appropriate completion) this Hecke action is also compatible with Hodge theory.
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