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1 MT5821 Advanced Combinatorics 2 Designs and projective planes We begin by discussing projective planes, and then take a look at more general designs 21 Projective planes Consider the following configuration, which goes by the name the Fano plane This represents a structure which has seven points (represented by dots in the diagram) and seven lines, each line being a set of three points (represented by the six straight lines and the one circle) You can check that it has the following properties: there are seven points and seven lines; each point lies on three lines, and each line contains three points; each two points lie on a unique line, and each two lines intersect in a unique point The Fano plane has a couple of important labellings, shown in Figure 1 In the first, the points are labelled by the seven non-zero triples of elements from the binary field (the integers modulo 2), and you can check that three points form a line if and only if the sum of the corresponding triples is zero This is a kind of coordinatisation of the plane which we will return to later It is also relevant to the game of Nim, where the lines represent winning positions In the second, the labels are the integers modulo 7; one line is {0,1,3}, and the others are found by adding a fixed element of Z/7 to each point, giving {1,2,4}, 1

2 Figure 1: Labellings of the Fano plane {2,3,5}, etc This shows that the cyclic permutation (0,1,2,3,4,5,6) is an automorphism of the plane, giving it a cyclic structure The six properties listed earlier are not all independent We take two of them (and a nondegeneracy condition) as the definition and prove the other four Definition A projective plane is a structure consisting of points and lines, where each line is a set containing at least two points, having the properties two points are contained in a unique line; two lines intersect in a unique point; there exist four points with no three collinear Theorem 21 In a finite projective plane, there is an integer n > 1 (called the order of the plane) such that any line contains n + 1 points, and any point lies on n + 1 lines; there are n 2 + n + 1 points and n 2 + n + 1 lines Proof There must exist a point p and line L with p / L; otherwise all points lie on L, and the third condition of the definition fails Suppose that L is a line, and p is a point not lying on L Then there is a bijection between the points of L and the lines through p: each point q of L lies on one line through p, and each line through p contains one point of L Suppose there are two lines L 1 and L 2 with different numbers of points By the above argument, every point must lie on either L 1 or L 2 But this means that any line not containing L 1 L 2 has just two points, one on L 1 and one on L 2 If each of L 1 and L 2 contained at least three points, say p,q,r L 1 and p,s,t L 2, then the lines qs and rt would not intersect, a contradiction So the configuration must 2

3 Figure 2: A degenerate projective plane look as shown in Figure 2 But this plane does not contain four points with no three collinear! We conclude that any line contains n + 1 points, and any point lies on n + 1 lines, for some positive integer n; and n > 1, since otherwise the configuration would only have three points Now a point lies on n + 1 lines, each containing n further points, with no duplication; so there are n 2 +n+1 points altogether Similarly there are n 2 +n+1 lines It is a remarkable fact that all known finite projective planes have order a power of a prime number This is the biggest open problem in this area Here is a summary of what is known Theorem 22 order q (a) For every prime power q > 1, there is a projective plane of (b) If there is a projective plane of order n congruent to 1 or 2 (mod 4), then n is the sum of two integer squares (c) There is no projective plane of order 10 Part (b) is the Bruck Ryser Theorem, and part (c) the result of a huge computation by Lam et al in the 1980s These settle the existence question for all orders up to 11 But we do not know about 12, 15, 18, 20, I will prove part (a) here This depends on a theorem of Galois (one of the few of his results which was published during his lifetime): Theorem 23 For every prime power q > 1, there is a field with q elements Indeed, the field with q elements is unique up to isomorphism; we call it the Galois field of order q, and denote it by GF(q) Now the classical construction goes as follows Let F be any field, finite or infinite Let V be a 3-dimensional vector space over F Now let the point set of our plane be the set of 1-dimensional subspaces of V Each 2-dimensional subspace W will define a line consisting of all the 1-dimensional subspaces contained in W I claim that this is a projective plane 3

4 Let U 1 and U 2 be distinct points Then W = U 1 +U 2 is 2-dimensional, and so corresponds to the unique line containing U 1 and U 2 Let W 1 and W 2 be distinct 2-dimensional subspaces Then W 1 + W 2 has dimension 3, and is equal to V From the formula dim(w 1 +W 2 ) + dim(w 1 W 2 ) = dim(w 1 ) + dim(w 2 ), we see that W 1 W 2 has dimension 1, and is the unique point contained in the two lines defined by W 1 and W 2 The four points (1,0,0), (0,1,0), (0,0,1) and (1,1,1) have the property that any three are linearly independent; so no three lie in a line Note that if we take F = GF(2), then any 1-dimensional subspace has just two elements, the zero vector and one non-zero vector If we label each line by its non-zero vector, we get the representation on the left in Figure 1 More generally, let F = GF(q) Then a 1-dimensional subspace has q vectors, the zero vector and q 1 others; a 2-dimensional subspace has q 2 vectors, the zero vector and q 2 1 others Since any non-zero vector spans a unique 1-dimensional subspace, the number of lines through a point is (q 2 1)/(q 1) = q + 1 So the order of the projective plane defined by this field is q [This is the main reason for having n+1 in the definition, rather than n as you might expect; the plane defined by a field with q elements has order q 22 The Friendship Theorem and projective planes The Friendship Theorem has an unexpected connection with projective planes To describe it, we need a few definitions A duality of a projective plane is a bijective map interchanging the sets of points and lines, but preserving incidence Thus, for σ to be a duality, we require that For every point p, σ(p) is a line; and for every line L, σ(l) is a point If point p lies on line L, then line σ(p) contains point σ(l) A polarity is a duality which is equal to its inverse; that is, for any point p, σ(σ(p)) = p A point p is an absolute point for a polarity σ if p σ(p) Theorem 24 A polarity of a finite projective plane has absolute points 4

5 Proof Suppose that σ is a polarity with no absolute points Now form a graph whose vertices are the points, with an edge joining p to q if p is contained in σ(q) (note that this is equivalent to q σ(p), so the graph is undirected) There are no loops, since p is never in σ(p) by assumption Note that the graph is regular with valency n + 1, where n is the order of the projective plane We claim that any two vertices have a unique common neighbour For let p and q be two vertices There is a unique line L containing p and q Let r = σ(l) Then, by definition, r is the unique neighbour of p and q So the graph satisfies the hypotheses of the Friendship Theorem But according to that theorem, the only regular graph satisfying these hypotheses is the triangle; so we would have n = 1, contradicting the definition of a projective plane Note that, if the degenerate projective plane of Figure 2 has an even number of points on the horizontal line, say p 1,, p 2n, with q the special point, then it has a polarity with no absolute points: let σ interchange q with the horizontal line, p 2i 1 with the line {p 2i,q}, and p 2i with {p 2i 1,q}; the resulting graph is the one occurring in the Friendship Theorem 23 Affine planes What have projective planes to do with the subject of projective geometry, which was developed to underpin the study of perspective by artists in the Renaissance? I will say a bit about this after a short detour An affine plane of order n consists of a set of n 2 points and a collection of lines, each line a set of n points, with the property that two points lie in a unique line Exercise 21 asks you to prove the following: (a) Show that an affine plane of order n has n(n + 1) lines, and that each point lies on n + 1 lines (b) Call two lines parallel if they are disjoint Show that, given a line L and a point p / L, there is a unique line L parallel to L through the point p (That is, Euclid s parallel postulate holds) (c) Prove that if two lines are each parallel to a third line, then they are parallel to each other (d) Hence show that the lines fall into n+1 parallel classes, each class consisting of n lines covering all the points 5

6 Using this, we can establish a strong connection between projective and affine planes Start with a projective plane with point set P and line set L Take a line L L, and delete it and all of its points We are left with (n 2 + n + 1) (n + 1) = n 2 points Each remaining line has lost one point (its intersection with L), and so has n points And clearly two points lie on a unique line So we have an affine plane Conversely, suppose that we have an affine plane, with point set P 1 and line set L Let P 2 be the set of parallel classes, and L 2 = {L } where L is a new symbol Now we construct a new structure with point set P = P 1 P 2 and L = L 1 L 2 Each line in L 1 contains the points of the affine plane incident with it together with one point of P 2, namely the parallel class containing it The line L contains all the points of P 2 and nothing else We claim that we have a projective plane Two points of P 1 lie on a unique line in L 1 ; a point p P 1 and a parallel class C P 2 lie on the unique line L of C which contains p; and two points of P 2 lie on the unique line L Two lines in L 1 either intersect in a unique point p P 1, or are parallel; in the latter case they lie in a unique parallel class C P 2 A line L L 1 meets L in the unique parallel class C containing L Four points with no three collinear are easily found in the affine plane (take the vertices of a parallelogram ) This process is referred to as adding a line at infinity to an affine plane It is easily checked that, if we take a projective plane, remove a line to obtain an affine plane, and add a line at infinity to get a projective plane, we recover the plane we started with Figure 3 shows how to extend the smallest affine plane (consisting of four points and six lines) to the smallest projective plane(the Fano plane) (The affine plane is drawn in black; the three parallel classes are given colours blue, cyan and green; and the line at infinity is red) It takes a little imagination to see that we really have the Fano plane! Now we can make the connection It probably helps to think of the Euclidean plane as the affine plane in this example Imagine an artist is standing at the origin of the XY plane, with her eye at a height of one unit (that is, at the point (0,0,1) of 3-space) She has set up his easel in front of her and is drawing what she sees, by representing a point p in the XY-plane by the point where the line from her eye to p intersects the picture plane It is easy to see that a line in the XY plane 6

7 Figure 3: Adding a line at infinity is represented by a line in the picture Now, assuming that the picture plane is not parallel to the XY-plane, the horizon is represented by a line in the picture (where the plane z = 1 intersects the picture plane); and two parallel lines (for example, the two rails of a railway line) are represented by two lines which pass through a point on the horizon line Here, the horizon line is the line at infinity, and its points represent parallel classes of lines in the Euclidean plane 7

8 24 More general designs Projective and affine planes are special cases of a more general class of objects We generalise in two stages A Steiner system S(t,k,n) consists of a set of n points, and a collection of k- element subsets of the point set called blocks, with the property that any t points lie in a unique block We assume that t,k,n are positive integers with t < k < n Thus the Fano plane is a S(2,3,7); a projective plane of order n is a S(2,n + 1,n 2 + 1); an affine plane of order n is a S(2,n,n 2 ) ( ) v / ( ) k Theorem 25 (a) A S(t,k,v) has blocks t t (b) Suppose that i < t, and let I be a set of i points in a S(t,k,v) Take the set of blocks containing I, and remove I from the set of points and from all these blocks The result is an S(t i,k i,v i) ( ) ( ) k i v i (c) If S(t,k,v) exists, then divides for 0 i t 1 t i t i Proof (a) is a simple double counting argument: count in two ways the choice of a block and t points in it (b) is easy, and (c) follows from (a) and (b) and the fact that the number of blocks must be an integer We refer to part (c) as the divisibility conditions Suppose that the divisibility conditions are satisfied Can we be sure that a Steiner system exists? The answer is no in general: projective planes satisfy the divisibility conditions, and we have seen that they do not exist for all orders However, something is known: Kirkman (1847) proved that Steiner triple systems S(2, 3, n) exist whenever the divisibility conditions are satisfied (that is, n is congruent to 1 or 3 (mod 6) see Exercise 23); Wilson (1972) proved that S(2, k, v) exists if the divisibility conditions are satisfied and v is sufficiently large (as a function of k); Keevash (not published yet) proved that S(t, k, v) exists if the divisibility conditions are satisfied and v is sufficiently large (as a function of t and k) 8

9 Keevash s result is remarkable in that, 160 years after Kirkman posed the general question, no Steiner systems with t > 5 were known! A further generalisation is as follows Let t,k,n be as above, and λ a positive integer A t-(n,k,λ) design consists of a set of n points and a collection of k- element subsets called blocks, such that a set of t points is contained in exactly λ blocks ( ) ( ) k i v i Again there are divisibility conditions, asserting that divides λ t i t i for 0 i t 1 Wilson and Keevash actually proved their results for these more general objects, where the bounds for n depend now on λ as well as the other parameters Exercises (a) Show that an affine plane of order n has n(n + 1) lines, and that each point lies on n + 1 lines (b) Call two lines parallel if they are disjoint Show that, given a line L and a point p / L, there is a unique line L parallel to L through the point p (That is, Euclid s parallel postulate holds) (c) Prove that if two lines are each parallel to a third line, then they are parallel to each other (d) Hence show that the lines fall into n+1 parallel classes, each class consisting of n lines covering all the points (e) Construct affine planes of orders 2 and 3 (a) For any given n, show that there is a projective plane of order n if and only if there is an affine plane of order n (b) Suppose that, for some n, there is a unique affine plane of order n Show that there is a unique projective plane of order n 23 Show that the divisibility conditions for S(2,3,n) are satisfied if and only if n is congruent to 1 or 3 (mod 6) 9

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