Category Archives: Combinatorics

Midrasha Mathematicae #18: In And Around Combinatorics



Tahl Nowik

photo (4) 17.8.14 midrasha poster 2015 poster

michal-mid mid-irit mid-david nati-mid mid-peter nica-mid   alex-mid2 midjoel mid-sam tami-mid zohar-mid tahl-mid

Update 3 (January 30): The midrasha ended today. Update 2 (January 28): additional videos are linked; Update 1 (January 23): Today we end the first week of the school. David Streurer and Peter Keevash completed their series of lectures and Alex Postnikov started his series.


Today is the third day of our winter school. In this page I will gradually give links to to various lectures and background materials. I am going to update the page through the two weeks of the Midrasha. Here is the web page of the midrasha, and here is the program. I will also present the posters for those who want me to: simply take a picture (or more than one) of the poster and send me. And also – links to additional materials, pictures, or anything else: just email me, or add a comment to this post.

Lecture series and lectures

Irit Dinur: Direct products of games and graphs

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When Do a Few Colors Suffice?

When can we properly color the vertices of a graph with a few colors? This is a notoriously difficult problem. Things get a little better if we consider simultaneously a graph together with all its induced subgraphs. Recall that an induced subgraph of a graph G is a subgraph formed by a subset of the vertices of G together with all edges of G spanned  on these vertices.  An induced cycle of length larger than three is called a hole, and an induced subgraph which is a complement of a cycle of length larger than 3 is called an anti-hole. As usual, \chi (G) is the chromatic number of G and \omega (G) is the clique number of G (the maximum number of vertices that form a complete subgraph. Clearly, for every graph G

\chi(G) \ge \omega (G).

Perfect graphs

Question 1: Describe the class \cal G  of graphs closed under induced subgraphs, with the property that \chi(G)=\omega (G) for every G\in{\cal G}.

A graph G is called perfect if  \chi(H)=\omega (H) for every induced subgraph H of G. So Question 1 asks for a description of perfect graphs. The study of perfect graphs is among the most important areas of graph theory, and much progress was made along the years.

Interval graphs, chordal graphs, comparability graphs of POSETS  , … are perfect.

Two major theorems about perfect graphs, both conjectured by Claude Berge are:

The perfect graph theorem (Lovasz, 1972): The complement of a perfect graph is perfect

The strong perfect graph theorem (Chudnovsky, Robertson, Seymour and Thomas, 2002): A graph is perfect if and only if it does not contain  an odd hole and an odd anti-hole.

Mycielski Graphs

There are triangle-free graphs with arbitrary large chromatic numbers. An important construction by Mycielski goes as follows: Given a triangle graph G with n vertices v_1,v_2, \dots, v_n create a new graph  G’ as follows: add n new vertices u_1, u_2\dots u_n and a vertex w. Now add w to each u_i and for every i and j for which v_i and v_j are adjacent add also an edge between v_i and u_j (and thus also between u_i and v_j.)

Classes of Graphs with bounded chromatic numbers

Question 2: Describe classes of graphs closed under induced subgraphs with bounded chromatic numbers.

Here are three theorems in this direction. The first answers affirmatively a conjecture by Kalai and Meshulam. The second and third prove conjectures by Gyarfas.

Trinity Graphs

The Trinity graph theorem (Bonamy, Charbit and Thomasse, 2013): Graphs without induced cycles of  length divisible by three have bounded chromatic numbers.

(The paper: Graphs with large chromatic number induce 3k-cycles.)


Steps toward Gyarfas conjecture

Theorem (Scott and Seymour, 2014):  Triangle-free graphs without odd induced cycles have bounded chromatic number.

(The paper:  Coloring graphs with no odd holes.)

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Coloring Simple Polytopes and Triangulations


Edge-coloring of simple polytopes

One of the equivalent formulation of the four-color theorem asserts that:

Theorem (4CT) : Every cubic bridgeless planar graph is 3-edge colorable

So we can color the edges by three colors such that every two edges sharing a vertex are colored by different colors.

Abby Thompson asked the following question:

Question: Suppose that G is the graph of a simple d-polytope with n vertices. Suppose also that n is even (this is automatic if d is odd). Can we always properly color the edges of G with d colors?

Vising theorem reminded

Vising’s theorem asserts that a graph with maximum degree D can be edge-colored by D+1 colors. This is one of the most fundamental theorems in graph theory. (One of my ambitions for the blog is to interactively teach the proof based on a guided way toward a proof, based on Diestel’s book, that I tried in a graph theory course some years ago.) Class-one graphs are those graphs with edge chromatic number equal to the maximum degree. Those graphs that required one more color are called class-two graphs.

Moving to triangulations

Thompson asked also a more general question:

Question: Let G be a dual graph of a triangulation of the (d-1)-dimensional sphere. Suppose that G has an even number of vertices.  Is G d-edge colorable?

Grunbaum’s question and counterexample

Branko Grunbaum proposed a beautiful generalization for the 4CT: He conjectured that the dual graph of a triangulation of every two-dimensional manifold is 3-edge colorable. This conjecture was refuted in 2009 by Martin Kochol.

Triangulations in higher dimensions

A third question, even more general, posed by Thompson is: Let G be a dual graph of a triangulation of a (d-1)-dimensional manifold, d ≥ 4. Suppose that G has an even number of vertices.  Is G d-edge colorable?

Hamiltonian cycles

Coloring graph is notoriously difficult but finding a Hamiltonian cycle is even more difficult.

Tait’s conjecture and Barnette’s conjectures

Peter Tait conjectured in 1884 that every 3-connected cubic planar graph is Hamiltonian. His conjecture was disproved by William Tutte in 1946. A cubic Hamiltonian graph must be of class I and therefore Tait’s conjecture implies the 4CT. David Barnette proposed two ways to save Tait’s conjecture: one for adding the condition that all faces have an even number of edges or, equivalently that the graph is bipartite, and another, by moving up in the dimension.

Barnette’s conjecture I: Planar 3-connected cubic bipartite graphs are Hamiltonian.

Barnette’s conjecture II: Graphs of simple d-polytopes d ≥ 4 are Hamiltonian.

Barnette’s hamiltonicity conjecture in high dimension does not imply a positive answer to Thompson’s quaestion. We can still ask for the following common strengthening:  does the graph of a simple d-polytope, d 4, with an even number of vertices contain [d/2] edge-disjoint Hamiltonian cycles?

There are few more things to mention: Peter Tait made also three beautiful conjectures about knots. They were all proved, but it took a century more or less. When we move to high dimensions there are other notions of coloring and other generalizations of “Hamiltonian cycles.” You can Test Your Imagination and try to think about such notions!

Update (Dec 7): Following rupeixu’s comment I asked a question over: generalizations-of-the-four-color-theorem.

A lecture by Noga


Noga with Uri Feige among various other heroes

A few weeks ago I devoted a post to the 240-summit conference for Péter Frankl, Zoltán Füredi, Ervin Győri and János Pach, and today I will bring you the slides of Noga Alon’s lecture in the meeting. Noga is my genious twin academic brother – we both were graduate students under the supervision of Micha A. Perles in the same years and we both went to MIT as postocs in fall 1983.  The lecture starts with briefly mentioning four results by the birthday boys related to combinatorics and geometry and continues with recent startling results by Alon, Ankur Moitra, and Benny Sudakov. One out of many contributions of Noga over the years is building a large infrastructure of constructions and examples, often very surprising,  in combinatorics, graph theory, information theory,TOC, and related areas. And the new results add to this infrastructure. The slides are very clear. Enjoy!






Jim Geelen, Bert Gerards, and Geoff Whittle Solved Rota’s Conjecture on Matroids


Gian Carlo Rota

Rota’s conjecture

I just saw in the Notices of the AMS a paper by Geelen, Gerards, and Whittle where they announce and give a high level description of their recent proof of Rota’s conjecture. The 1970 conjecture asserts that for every finite field, the class of matroids representable over the field can be described by a finite list of forbidden minors. This was proved by William Tutte in 1938 for binary matroids (namely those representable over the field of two elements). For binary matroids Tutte found a single forbidden minor.  The ternary case was settled by by Bixby and by Seymour in the late 70s (four forbidden minors).  Geelen, Gerards and Kapoor proved recently that there are seven forbidden minors over a field of four elements.  The notices paper gives an excellent self-contained introduction to the conjecture.

This is a project that started in 1999 and it will probably take a couple more years to complete writing the proof. It relies on ideas from the Robertson-Seymour forbidden minor theorem for graphs. Congratulations to Jim, Bert, and Geoff!

Well, looking around I saw that this was announced in August 22’s post in a very nice group blog devoted by matroids- Matroid Union, with contributions by Dillon Mayhew, Stefan van Zwam, Peter Nelson, and Irene Pivotto. August 22? you may ask, yes! August 22, 2013. I missed the news by almost a year. It was reported also here and here  and here, and here, and here, and here!

This is a good opportunity to mention two additional conjectures by Gian-Carlo Rota. But let me ask you, dear readers, before that a little question.

Rota’s unimodality conjecture and June Huh’s work

Rota’s unimodality conjecture predicts that the coefficients of the characteristic polynomial of a matroid form a log-concave sequence. This implies that the coefficients are unimodal. A special case of the conjecture is an earlier famous conjecture (by Read) asserting that the coefficients of the chromatic polynomial of a graph are unimodal (and log-concave). This conjecture about matroids was made also around the same time by Heron and Welsh.

June Huh proved Reads’ unimodality conjecture for graphs and the more general Heron-Rota-Welsh conjecture for representable matroids for characteristic 0. Later Huh and  Eric Katz proved the case of  representable matroids for arbitrary characteristics. I already mentioned these startling results earlier and we may come back to them later.

Huh’s path to mathematics was quite amazing. He wanted to be a science-writer and accomponied Hironaka on whom he planned to write. Hironaka introduced him to mathematics in general and to algebraic geometry and this led June to study mathematics and a few years later to use deep connections between algebraic geometry and combinatorics to prove the conjecture.

Rota’s basis conjecture

Rota’s basis conjecture from the late 80’s appears to remain wide open. The problem first appeared in print in a paper by Rosa Huang and Rota. Here is a post about it also from “the matroid union.” It is the first problem in Rota’s article entitled “Ten Mathematics problems I will never solve“. Having access only to page one of the paper I can only guess what the other nine problems might be.


Rota’s portrait by Fan Chung Graham



Next Week in Jerusalem: Special Day on Quantum PCP, Quantum Codes, Simplicial Complexes and Locally Testable Codes

Special Quantum PCP and/or Quantum Codes: Simplicial Complexes and Locally Testable CodesDay

24 Jul 2014 – 09:30 to 17:00

room B-220, 2nd floor, Rothberg B Building

On Thursday, the 24th of July we will host a SC-LTC (simplicial complexes and classical and quantum locally testable codes) at the Hebrew university, Rothberg building B room 202 (second floor) in the Givat Ram campus. Please join us, we are hoping for a fruitful and enjoyable day, with lots of interactions. Coffee and refreshments will be provided throughout the day, as well as free “tickets” for lunch on campus
There is no registration fee, but please email preferably by next Tuesday if there is a reasonable probability that you attend –  so that we have some estimation regarding the number of people, for food planning

Program:SC-LTC day – simplicial complexes and locally testable classical and quantum codes –Rothberg building B202
9:00 gathering: coffee and refreshments

9:30 Irit Dinur: Locally testable codes, a bird’s eye view

10:15: coffee break

10:45 Tali Kaufman, High dimensional expanders and property testing

11:30 15 minutes break

11:45 Dorit Aharonov, quantum codes and local testability

12:30 lunch break

2:00 Alex Lubotzky: Ramanujan complexes

2:50 coffee break

3:15 Lior Eldar: Open questions about quantum locally testable codes and quantum entanglement

3:45 Guy Kindler: direct sum testing and relations to simplicial complexes ( Based on David, Dinur, Goldenberg, Kindler, and Shinkar, 2014)

4:15-5 free discussion, fruit and coffee


My Mathematical Dialogue with Jürgen Eckhoff

Jürgen Eckhoff, Ascona 1999

Jürgen Eckhoff is a German mathematician working in the areas of convexity and combinatorics. Our mathematical paths have met a remarkable number of times. We also met quite a few times in person since our first meeting in Oberwolfach in 1982. Here is a description of my mathematical dialogue with Jürgen Eckhoff:

Summary 1) (1980) we found independently two proofs for the same conjecture; 2) (1982) I solved Eckhoff’s Conjecture; 3) Jurgen (1988) solved my conjecture; 4) We made the same conjecture (around 1990) that Andy Frohmader solved in 2007,  and finally  5) (Around 2007) We both found (I with Roy Meshulam, and Jürgen with Klaus Peter Nischke) extensions to Amenta’s Helly type theorems that both imply a topological version.

(A 2009 KTH lecture based on this post or vice versa is announced here.)

Let me start from the end: 

5. 2007 – Eckhoff and I  both find related extensions to Amenta’s theorem.

Nina Amenta

Nina Amenta proved a remarkable extension of Helly’s theorem. Let \cal F be a finite family with the following property:

(a) Every member of \cal F is the union of at most r pairwise disjoint compact convex sets.

(b) So is every intersection of members of \cal F.

(c) |{\cal F}| > r(d+1).

If every r(d+1) members of \cal F has a point in common, then all members of \cal F have a point in common!

The case r=1 is Helly’s theorem, Grünbaum and Motzkin proposed this theorem as a conjecture and proved the case r=2. David Larman  proved the case r=3.


Roy Meshulam

Roy Meshulam and I studied a topological version of the theorem, namely you assume that every member of F is the union of at most r pairwise disjoint contractible compact sets in $R^d$ and that all these sets together form a good cover – every nonempty intersection is either empty or contractible. And we were able to prove it!

Eckhoff and Klaus Peter Nischke looked for a purely combinatorial version of Amenta’s theorem which is given by the old proofs (for r=2,3) but not by Amenta’s proof. An approach towards such a proof was already proposed by Morris in 1968, but it was not clear how to complete Morris’s work. Eckhoff and Nischke were able to do it! And this also implied the topological version for good covers.

The full results of Eckhoff and Nischke and of Roy and me are independent. Roy and I showed that if the nerve of \cal G is d-Leray then the nerve of \cal F is ((d+1)r-1)-Leray. Eckhoff and showed that if the nerve of \cal G has Helly number d, then the nerve of \cal F has Helly number (d+1)r-1. Amenta’s argument can be used to show that if the nerve of \cal G is d-collapsible then the nerve of F is  ((d+1)r-1)-collapsible.

Here, a simplicial comples K is d-Leray if all homology groups H_i(L) vanishes for every i \ge d and every induced subcomplex L of K.

Roy and I were thinking about a common homological generalization which will include both results but so far could not prove it.


And now let me move to the beginning:

1. 1981 – we give different proofs for the Perles-Katchalski Conjecture

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