Channels, Billiards, and Perfect Matching 2-Divisibility

  • Grant T. Barkley
  • Ricky Ini Liu


Let $m_G$ denote the number of perfect matchings of the graph $G$. We introduce a number of combinatorial tools for determining the parity of $m_G$ and giving a lower bound on the power of 2 dividing $m_G$. In particular, we introduce certain vertex sets called channels, which correspond to elements in the kernel of the adjacency matrix of $G$ modulo $2$. A result of Lovász states that the existence of a nontrivial channel is equivalent to $m_G$ being even. We give a new combinatorial proof of this result and strengthen it by showing that the number of channels gives a lower bound on the power of $2$ dividing $m_G$ when $G$ is planar. We describe a number of local graph operations which preserve the number of channels. We also establish a surprising connection between 2-divisibility of $m_G$ and dynamical systems by showing an equivalency between channels and billiard paths. We exploit this relationship to show that $2^{\frac{\gcd(m+1,n+1)-1}{2}}$ divides the number of domino tilings of the $m\times n$ rectangle. We also use billiard paths to give a fast algorithm for counting channels (and hence determining the parity of the number of domino tilings) in simply connected regions of the square grid.

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