Larry Guth Colloquium: Unexpected Applications of Polynomials in Combinatorics

My former colleague Larry Guth (now at MIT) visited us recently and gave a beautiful colloquium talk. The Department has recently deployed a video streaming service so we are able to share Larry’s talk with the world. We look forward to sharing other videos in the future.

Here is the video:

Unexpected applications of polynomials in combinatorics

by Larry Guth | MIT Time: 16:10 (Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013) Location: BA6183, Bahen Center, 40 St George St Abstract: In the last five years, several hard problems in combinatorics have been solved by using polynomials in an unexpected way. In some cases, the proofs are very short, and I will present a complete proof in the lecture. One of the problems is the joints problem. Given a set of lines in $R^3$, a joint is a point that lies in three non-coplanar lines. Given $L$ lines in $R^3$, how many joints can there be? Another problem is the distinct distance problem in the plane. If P is a set of points in the plane, the distance set of $P$ is the set of all distances from one point of $P$ to another. If $P$ is a set of $N$ points in the plane, how small can the distance set of $P$ be? The proofs involve studying a set of points in a vector space by finding a polynomial of controlled degree that vanishes at the points, and then using the geometry of the zero-set to understand the combinatorial properties of the points. The goal for the talk is to give an overview of this new method.