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The Path Resistance Method for Bounding the Smallest Nontrivial Eigenvalue of a Laplacian

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 September 1999

ICASE, Mail Stop 403, NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA 23681, USA (e-mail:
Department of Mathematics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA (e-mail:
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, 5000 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA (e-mail:


We introduce the path resistance method for lower bounds on the smallest nontrivial eigenvalue of the Laplacian matrix of a graph. The method is based on viewing the graph in terms of electrical circuits: it uses clique embeddings to produce lower bounds on λ2 and star embeddings to produce lower bounds on the smallest Rayleigh quotient when there is a zero Dirichlet boundary condition. The method assigns priorities to the paths in the embedding; we show that, for an unweighted tree T, using uniform priorities for a clique embedding produces a lower bound on λ2 that is off by at most an O(log diameter(T)) factor. We show that the best bounds this method can produce for clique embeddings are the same as for a related method that uses clique embeddings and edge lengths to produce bounds.

Research Article
1999 Cambridge University Press

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A version of this paper originally appeared in the Proceedings of the Eighth Annual ACM/SIAM Symposium on Discrete Algorithms.