Expressing Combinatorial Optimization Problems by Systems of Polynomial Equations and the Nullstellensatz

Systems of polynomial equations over the complex or real numbers can be used to model combinatorial problems. In this way, a combinatorial problem is feasible (e.g. a graph is 3-colorable, hamiltonian, etc.) if and only if a related system of polynomial equations has a solution. In the first part of this paper, we construct new polynomial encodings for the problems of finding in a graph its longest cycle, the largest planar subgraph, the edge-chromatic number, or the largest k-colorable subgraph.

For an infeasible polynomial system, the (complex) Hilbert Nullstellensatz gives a certificate that the associated combinatorial problem is infeasible. Thus, unless P = NP , there must exist an infinite sequence of infeasible instances of each hard combinatorial problem for which the minimum degree of a Hilbert Nullstellensatz certificate of the associated polynomial system grows.

We show that the minimum-degree of a Nullstellensatz certificate for the non-existence of a stable set of size greater than the stability number of the graph is the stability number of the graph. Moreover, such a certificate contains at least one term per stable set of G . In contrast, for non-3-colorability, we found only graphs with Nullstellensatz certificates of degree four.

By: J. A. De Loera; Jon Lee; S. Margulies; S. Onn

Published in: Combinatorics, Probability and Computing, volume 18, (no 4), pages 551-582 in 2009

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