2012 Fulkerson Prize Citation
Sanjeev Arora, Satish Rao, and Umesh Vazirani,
"Expander flows, geometric embeddings and graph partitioning", J. ACM, 56 (2009), 1-37.
In an n-vertex graph, how does one find an edge-cut of approximately minimum size such that
the ratio of the numbers of vertices on either side is bounded? The Leighton-Rao algorithm
from 1999 guarantees to find a cut within a factor O(log(n)) of optimal, but the prize paper
improves this to O(sqrt(log n)).
The proof techniques build on a series of major developments in approximation algorithms,
melding two different approaches to graph partitioning: a spectral method based on
eigenvalues, and an approach based on linear programming and metric embeddings in high
dimensional spaces. The key idea in both is to spread the vertices in some space while not
stretching edges much; partitioning this space then gives a partition of the graph.
The performance guarantee for their simple and elegant algorithm is proved by the following
geometric fact about the configuration of points produced by the semidefinite program: there
must exist two well-separated sets, each one containing a constant fraction of the
points. This geometric fact is established by a very delicate and sophisticated global
analysis that makes essential use of measure concentration - a significant departure from
the local analysis of SDPs in approximation algorithms thus far.
Anders Johansson, Jeff Kahn, and Van Vu,
"Factors in random graphs", Random Structures and Algorithms 33 (2008), 1-28.
Consider a random k-uniform hypergraph H with n vertices and edge-probability p. Assume that
k divides n. What value of p guarantees that, with high probability, H contains a perfect
This was solved for k = 2 by Erdos and Renyi in 1966, but the same question in general has
remained a central open problem, known as "Shamir's problem". The answer, as
anticipated, is just when the expected number of hyperedges is O(n log n) (for fixed k and
large n); but nothing even close was proved until now. In addition, their result identifies
the threshold for admitting a partition into vertex-disjoint copies of any given
The method of proof is novel. The authors consider a hypergraph process where edges are
removed from the complete hypergraph one by one, and they estimate the effect of removing
each edge on the number of factors of the hypergraph, using concentration inequalities.
Standard concentration methods fail in this situation, and the paper instead develops new
techniques with a heavy reliance on inequalities derived from entropy.
Lászlo Lovász and Balázs Szegedy,
"Limits of dense graph sequences", Journal of Combinatorial Theory Series B 96 (2006), 933-957.
The paper shows that for a natural metric, graph sequences have a limit object in the space
of symmetric measurable functions from the unit square to the unit line. This yields a
natural framework to study extremal and probabilistic properties of graphs and graph
sequences. For instance, the compactness of the latter space (modulo the group of
measure-preserving bijections) implies Szemerádi's regularity lemma, a fundamental new
The paper develops highly original and nontrivial new methods connecting extremal
combinatorics and measure theory, and provides important topological and measure-theoretic
tools to study large networks. It has led to a new field in probabilistic and extremal
combinatorics, yielding results like the (long sought for) hypergraph regularity lemma, and
tools to uncover the relations between the numbers of copies of different subgraphs in a
graph. It also triggered new developments in mathematical physics (energy minimization,
reflection positivity) and in algebraic combinatorics (in representation theory, invariant
theory and algebraic geometry).