Happy Birthday Ron Aharoni!

Ron Aharoni, one of Israel’s and the world’s leading combinatorialists celebrated his birthday last month. This is a wonderful opportunity to tell you about a few of the things that Ron did mainly around matching theory.

Menger’s theorem for infinite graphs

Hall’s marriage theorem

Hall marriage theorem (Philip Hall, 1935) gives a necessary and sufficient condition for a perfect matching in bipartite graphs. Suppose that you have a set A of n men and a set B of n women and a list of pairs of men and women that know each other. A perfect matching  is a bijection from A to B which matches every man to a woman he knows.

Hall’s marriage theorem asserts that a necessary and sufficient condition for a perfect matching is that every set S of men knows together at least |S| women.

This is an extremely important theorem and the starting point for a wonderful matching theory. It is a primary example of combinatorial duality. Other theorems of this kind are Menger’s theorem on connectivity in graphs, Dilworth’s theorem (1950) on covering posets with chains, the max-flow min-cut theorem (1956), and quite a few more.

Menger’s theorem

Menger Theorem (Karl Menger, 1927). Let G be a finite  graph and let x and y be two distinct vertices. Then the minimum number of edges whose removal disconnects x and is equal to the maximum number of pairwise edge-disjoint paths from x to y.

Infinite Menger

Ron Aharoni and Eli Berger proved the following theorem (here is a link to the arxived version):

Aharoni and Berger Theorem (2005): Given two sets of vertices, A and B, in a (possibly infinite) digraph, there exists a family P of disjoint A to B paths, and a separating set consisting of the choice of precisely one vertex from each path in P.

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A Few Mathematical Snapshots from India (ICM2010)

Can you find Assaf in this picture? (Picture: Guy Kindler.)

In my post about ICM 2010 and India I hardly mentioned any mathematics. So here are a couple of mathematical snapshots from India. Not so much from the lectures themselves but from accidental meetings with people. (Tim Gowers extensively live-blogged from ICM10.) First, the two big problems in analysis according to Assaf Naor as told at the Bangalore airport waiting for a flight to Hyderabad.  Next, a lecture on “proofs from the book” by Günter Ziegler. Then, some interesting things I was told on the bus to my hotel from the Hyderabad airport by François Loeser, and finally what goes even beyond q-analogs (answer: eliptic analogs) as explained by Eric Rains. (I completed this post  more than two years after it was drafted and made major compromises on the the quality of my understanding of the things I tell about. Also, I cannot be responsible today for the 2-year old attempts at humor.)

The two big problems in analysis according to Assaf, and one bonus problem

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Karim Adiprasito: Flag simplicial complexes and the non-revisiting path conjecture

This post is authored by Karim Adiprasito

The past months have seen some exciting progress on diameter bounds for polytopes and polytopal complexes, both in the negative and in the positive direction.  Jesus de Loera and Steve Klee described simplicial polytopes which are not  weakly vertex decomposable and the existence of non weakly k-vertex decomposable polytopes for k up to about \sqrt{d} was proved  by Hähnle, Klee, and Pilaud in the paper  Obstructions to weak decomposability for simplicial polytopes. In this post I want to outline a generalization of a beautiful result of Billera and Provan in support of the Hirsch conjecture.

I will consider the simplicial version of the Hirsch conjecture, dual to the classic formulation of Hirsch conjecture. Furthermore, I will consider the Hirsch conjecture, and the non-revisiting path conjecture, for general simplicial complexes, as opposed to the classical formulation for polytopes.

Theorem [Billera & Provan `79] The barycentric subdivision of a shellable simplicial complex satisfies the Hirsch Conjecture.

The barycentric subdivision of a shellable complex is vertex decomposable. The Hirsch diameter bound for vertex decomposable complexes, in turn, can be proven easily by induction.

This is particularly interesting since polytopes, the objects for which the Hirsch conjecture was originally formulated, are shellable. So while in general polytopes do not satisfy the Hirsch conjecture, their barycentric subdivisions always do! That was a great news!

Shellability is a strong combinatorial property that enables us to decompose a complex nicely, so it does not come as a surprise that it can be used to give some diameter bounds on complexes. Suprisingly, however, shellability is not needed at all!  And neither is the barycentric subdivision!

A simplicial complex Σ is called flag if it is the clique complex of its 1-skeleton. It is called normal if it is pure and for every face F of Σ of codimension two or more, Lk(F) is connected.

Theorem (Adiprasito and Benedetti):  Any flag and normal simplicial complex Σ satisfies the non-revisiting path conjecture and, in particular, it satisfies the Hirsch conjecture.

This generalizes the Billera–Provan result in three ways:

— The barycentric subdivision of a simplicial complex is flag, but not all flag complexes are obtained by barycentric subdivisions.

— Shellability imposes strong topological and combinatorial restrictions on a complex; A shellable complex is always homotopy equivalent to a wedge of spheres of the same dimension, and even if a pure complex is topologically nice (if, for example, it is a PL ball) it may not be shellable, as classic examples of Goodrick, Lickorish and Rudin show. Being normal still poses a restriction, but include a far wider class of complexes. For example, every triangulation of a (connected) manifold is normal, and so are all homology manifolds.

— Instead of proving the Hirsch conjecture, we can actually obtain the stronger conclusion that the complex satisfies the non-revisiting path conjecture, which for a given complex is stronger than the Hirsch conjecture.

A geometric proof of our theorem appeared in a recent paper “Metric geometry and collapsibility”  with Bruno Benedetti. . I will give here a short combinatorial proof.

Construction of a combinatorial segment

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