Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Mathematics and Statistics

Major Professor

Brendan Nagle, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Brian Curtin, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mohamed Elhamdadi, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Theo Molla, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Dmytro Savchuk, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jay Ligatti, Ph.D.


Extremal Combinatorics, Covers, Weight, Hansel


For integers $n \geq k \geq 2$, let $V$ be an $n$-element set, and let $\binom{V}{k}$ denote the family of all $k$-element subsets of $V$. For disjoint subsets $A, B \subseteq V$, we say that $\{A, B\}$ {\it covers} an element $K \in \binom{V}{k}$ if $K \subseteq A \dot\cup B$ and $K \cap A \neq \emptyset \neq K \cap B$. We say that a collection $\cC$ of such pairs {\it covers} $\binom{V}{k}$ if every $K \in \binom{V}{k}$ is covered by at least one $\{A, B\} \in \cC$. When $k=2$, covers $\cC$ of $\binom{V}{2}$ were introduced in~1961 by R\'enyi~\cite{Renyi}, where they were called {\it separating systems} of $V$ (since every pair $u \neq v \in V$ is separated by some $\{A, B\} \in \cC$, in the sense that $u \in A$ and $v \in B$, or vice-versa). Separating systems have since been studied by many authors.

For a cover $\cC$ of $\binom{V}{k}$, define the {\it weight} $\omega(\cC)$ of $\cC$ by $\omega(\cC) = \sum_{\{A, B\} \in \cC} (|A|+|B|)$. We define $h(n, k)$ to denote the minimum weight $\omega(\cC)$ among all covers $\cC$ of $\binom{V}{k}$. In~1964, Hansel~\cite{H} determined the bounds $\lceil n \log_2 n \rceil \leq h(n, 2) \leq n\lceil \log_2 n\rceil$, which are sharp precisely when $n = 2^p$ is an integer power of two. In~2007, Bollob\'as and Scott~\cite{BS} extended Hansel's bound to the exact formula $h(n, 2) = np + 2R$, where $n = 2^p + R$ for $p = \lfloor \log_2 n\rfloor$.

The primary result of this dissertation extends the results of Hansel and of Bollob\'as and Scott to the following exact formula for $h(n, k)$, for all integers $n \geq k \geq 2$. Let $n = (k-1)q + r$ be given by division with remainder, and let $q = 2^p + R$ satisfy $p = \lfloor \log_2 q \rfloor$. Then

h(n, k) = np + 2R(k-1) + \left\lceil\frac{r}{k-1}\right\rceil (r + k - 1).

A corresponding result of this dissertation proves that all optimal covers $\cC$ of $\binom{V}{k}$, i.e., those for which $\omega(\cC) = h(n, k)$, share a unique {\it degree-sequence}, as follows. For a vertex $v \in V$, define the {\it $\cC$-degree} $\deg_{\cC}(v)$ of $v$ to be the number of elements $\{A, B\} \in \cC$ for which $v \in A \dot\cup B$. We order these degrees in non-increasing order to form $\bd(\cC)$, and prove that when $\cC$ is optimal, $\bd(\cC)$ is necessarily binary with digits $p$ and $p+1$, where uniquely the larger digits occur precisely on the first $2R(k-1) + \lceil r/(k-1) \rceil (r + k - 1)$ many coordinates. That $\bd(\cC)$ satisfies the above for optimal $\cC$ clearly implies the claimed formula for $h(n,k)$, but in the course of this dissertation, we show these two results are, in fact, equivalent.

In this dissertation, we also consider a $d$-partite version of covers $\cC$, written here as {\it $d$-covers} $\cD$. Here, the elements $\{A,B\} \in \cC$ are replaced by $d$-element families $\{A_1, \dots, A_d\} \in \cD$ of pairwise disjoint sets $A_i \subset V$, $1 \leq i \leq d$. We require that every element $K \in \binom{V}{k}$ is covered by some $\{A_1, \dots, A_d\} \in \cD$, in the sense that $K \subseteq A_1 \dot\cup \cdots \dot\cup A_d$ where $K \cap A_i \neq \emptyset$ holds for each $1 \leq i \leq d$. We analogously define $h_d(n,k)$ as the minimum weight $\omega(\cD) = \sum_{D \in \cD} \sum_{A \in D} |A|$ among all $d$-covers $\cD$ of $\binom{V}{k}$. In this dissertation, we prove that for all $2 \leq d \leq k \leq n$, the bound $h_d(n,k) \geq n \log_{d/(d-1)} (n/(k-1))$ always holds, and that this bound is asymptotically sharp whenever $d = d(k) = O (k/\log^2 k)$ and $k = k(n) = O(\sqrt{\log \log n})$.

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