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The objective of this course is to present a number of recent constructions of expander graphs, which are a type of sparse but “pseudorandom” graph of importance in computer science, the theory of random walks, geometric group theory, and in number theory. The subject of expander graphs and their applications is an immense one, and we will not possibly be able to cover it in full in this course. In particular, we will say almost nothing about the important applications of expander graphs to computer science, for instance in constructing good pseudorandom number generators, derandomising a probabilistic algorithm, constructing error correcting codes, or in building probabilistically checkable proofs. For such topics, I recommend the survey of Hoory-Linial-Wigderson. We will also only pass very lightly over the other applications of expander graphs, though if time permits I may discuss at the end of the course the application of expander graphs in finite groups such as to certain sieving problems in analytic number theory, following the work of Bourgain, Gamburd, and Sarnak.
Instead of focusing on applications, this course will concern itself much more with the task of constructing expander graphs. This is a surprisingly non-trivial problem. On one hand, an easy application of the probabilistic method shows that a randomly chosen (large, regular, bounded-degree) graph will be an expander graph with very high probability, so expander graphs are extremely abundant. On the other hand, in many applications, one wants an expander graph that is more deterministic in nature (requiring either no or very few random choices to build), and of a more specialised form. For the applications to number theory or geometric group theory, it is of particular interest to determine the expansion properties of a very symmetric type of graph, namely a Cayley graph; we will also occasionally work with the more general concept of a Schreier graph. It turns out that such questions are related to deep properties of various groups of Lie type (such as or ), such as Kazhdan’s property (T), the first nontrivial eigenvalue of a Laplacian on a symmetric space associated to , the quasirandomness of (as measured by the size of irreducible representations), and the product theory of subsets of . These properties are of intrinsic interest to many other fields of mathematics (e.g. ergodic theory, operator algebras, additive combinatorics, representation theory, finite group theory, number theory, etc.), and it is quite remarkable that a single problem – namely the construction of expander graphs – is so deeply connected with such a rich and diverse array of mathematical topics. (Perhaps this is because so many of these fields are all grappling with aspects of a single general problem in mathematics, namely when to determine whether a given mathematical object or process of interest “behaves pseudorandomly” or not, and how this is connected with the symmetry group of that object or process.)
(There are also other important constructions of expander graphs that are not related to Cayley or Schreier graphs, such as those graphs constructed by the zigzag product construction, but we will not discuss those types of graphs in this course, again referring the reader to the survey of Hoory, Linial, and Wigderson.)