Date of Award


Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Computer Science


Gary L. Miller


Spectral graph theory is the interplay between linear algebra and combinatorial graph theory. Laplace’s equation and its discrete form, the Laplacian matrix, appear ubiquitously in mathematical physics. Due to the recent discovery of very fast solvers for these equations, they are also becoming increasingly useful in combinatorial optimization, computer vision, computer graphics, and machine learning.

In this thesis, we develop highly efficient and parallelizable algorithms for solving linear systems involving graph Laplacian matrices. These solvers can also be extended to symmetric diagonally dominant matrices and M-matrices, both of which are closely related to graph Laplacians. Our algorithms build upon two decades of progress on combinatorial preconditioning, which connects numerical and combinatorial algorithms through spectral graph theory. They in turn rely on tools from numerical analysis, metric embeddings, and random matrix theory.

We give two solver algorithms that take diametrically opposite approaches. The first is motivated by combinatorial algorithms, and aims to gradually break the problem into several smaller ones. It represents major simplifications over previous solver constructions, and has theoretical running time comparable to sorting. The second is motivated by numerical analysis, and aims to rapidly improve the algebraic connectivity of the graph. It is the first highly efficient solver for Laplacian linear systems that parallelizes almost completely.

Our results improve the performances of applications of fast linear system solvers ranging from scientific computing to algorithmic graph theory. We also show that these solvers can be used to address broad classes of image processing tasks, and give some preliminary experimental results.