I have been wondering about something for a while now, and the simplest incarnation of it is the following question:

Find a finite group that is not a subgroup of any $GL_2(q)$.

Here, $GL_2(q)$ is the group of nonsingular $2 \times 2$ matrices over $\mathbb{F}_q$. Maybe I am fooled by the context in which this arose, but it seems quite unlikely that "many" finite groups are subgroups of $GL_2(q)$. Still, I can't seem to exclude a single group, but I am likely being stupid.

**Motivation:** This arose when I tried to do some explicit calculations related to Serre's modularity conjecture. I wanted to get my hands on some concrete Galois representations, and play around with the newforms associated to it. Call it recreational if you like (it certainly is!). In Serre's original paper [1], there is a wonderful treatment of some explicit examples. He uses the observation that the Galois group over $\mathbb{Q}$ of

$$x^7 -7x +3$$

is isomorphic to $PSL_2(7)$. This gives him a surjection $G_{\mathbb{Q}} := \mbox{Gal}(\overline{\mathbb{Q}}/\mathbb{Q})\rightarrow PSL_2(7)$, which he combines with the character associated to $\mathbb{Q}(\sqrt{-3})$ to obtain a homomorphism $G_{\mathbb{Q}} \rightarrow PSL_2(7) \times C_2$. This homomorphism he can then lift to $GL_2(49)$ using a very clever calculation in the Brauer group.

The way I see it (without claiming this is justified) is that it is unclear or even provably impossible to embed $PSL_2(7)$ directly into some $GL_2(q)$, and for that reason we need a nice lifting.

This raises the natural question of when this little trick with the Brauer group is "necessary". What can be said in general about subgroups of $GL_2(q)$? Can we exclude any particular finite group or families of finite groups? Can we perhaps even classify the possible isomorphism types of such subgroups? Of course this is all becomes even more natural to ask in the light of the inverse Galois problem. How many Galois groups can we "see" in the two-dimensional representations?

**Remark.** Of course, the question could be approached the other way. If one has the (perhaps not unrealistic?) hope of realising every $GL_2(q)$ as a Galois group over $\mathbb{Q}$, how many groups do you automatically realise over $\mathbb{Q}$ by taking quotients of $GL_2(q)$?

Which groups $G$ admit a surjection $GL_2(q) \rightarrow G \rightarrow 1$ for some $q$?

**Reference:**

[1] **Serre, Jean-Pierre**, *"Sur les représentations modulaires de degré 2 de Gal(Q/Q)"*, Duke Mathematical Journal 54.1, (1987): 179–230