Course on spectral methods and expanders

This semester, starting tomorrow, I am teaching a course on spectral methods and expanders. This is similar to a course I offered twice at Stanford, but this time it will be a 15-week course instead of a 10-week one.

The Stanford course had two main components: (1) spectral algorithms for sparsest cut, and comparisons with LP and SDP based methods, and (2) properties and constructions of expanders.

I will use the additional time to talk a bit more about spectral algorithms, including clustering algorithms, and about constructions of expanders, and to add a third part about electrical networks, sparsification, and max flow.

Lecture notes will be posted here after each lecture.

In some more detail, the course will start with a review of linear algebra and a proof of basic spectral graph theory facts, such as the multiplicity of 0 as an eigenvalue of the Laplacian being the same as the number of connected components of a graph.

Then we will introduce expansion and conductance, and prove Cheeger’s inequality. We will do so in the language of approximation algorithms, and we will see how the analysis of Fiedler’s algorithm given by Cheeger’s inequality compares to the Leighton-Rao analysis of the LP relaxation and the Arora-Rao-Vazirani analysis of the SDP relaxation. Then we will prove several variants of Cheeger’s inequality, interpreting them as analyses of spectral algorithms for clustering and max cut.

In the second part of the course, we will see properties of expanders and combinatorial and algebraic constructions of expanders. We will talk about the theory that gives eigenvalues and eigenvectors of Abelian Cayley graphs, the zig-zag graph product, and the Margulis-Gabber-Galil construction. I would also like to talk about the expansion of random graphs, and to explain how one gets expander constructions from Selberg’s “3/16 theorem,” although I am not sure if there will be time for that.

The first two parts will be tied together by looking at the MCMC algorithm to approximate the number of perfect matchings in a dense bipartite graph. The analysis of the algorithm depends on the mixing time of a certain exponentially big graph, the mixing time will be determined (as shown in a previous lecture on properties of expanders) by the eigenvalue gap, the eigenvalue gap will be determined (as shown by Cheeger’s inequality) by the conductance, and the conductance can be bounded by constructing certain multicommodity flows (as shown in the analysis of the Leighton-Rao algorithms).

In the third part, we will talk about electrical networks, effective resistance and electrical flows, see how to get sparsifiers using effective resistance, a sketch of how to salve Laplacian equations in nearly linear time, and how to approximate max flow using electrical flows.

2 thoughts on “Course on spectral methods and expanders

  1. Interestingly, I will also teach an expander course this coming semester (but we start in late February only…). I’ll probably refer students to your lecture notes in addition to those I will prepare, since they should be complementary in some respects…

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