Polyhedra and Graphs: Planar Graphs and Euler's Formula /Counterexamples

This is a joint section for both the "Graphs" and the "Polyhedra" Chapters. ......

The Euler Characteristics c and Euler's Conjecture

In a letter in 1750 Euler stated, but without valid proof, that for every polyhedron  V-E+F=2. Descartes had also observed a similar formula. Euler gave a not very rigorous "proof" of the formula in 1752. He also made an implicit assumptions about the polyhedra, that all are "convex" (which will be defined below).

To simplify notation, we define the Euler characteristic c of a polyhedron as c = V-E+F. Thus Euler's conjecture would say that all polyhedra have Euler characteristics equal to 2.

Note that all polyhedra considered so far have this property. What we can and will do first is show that all polyhedra we obtain by dualizing, truncating, glueing, have Euler characteristics 2 provided all polyhedra used in the process have also Euler characteristics 2. We could, for instance, start with the Platonic solids, or with all polyhedra we have found on the previous page.

The Euler characteristics of a polyhedron and its dual are identical.
Let V, E, F be vertex number, edge number, and face number of the original polyhedron, and let VD, ED, and FD the corresponding parameters for the dual. We get V=FD, E=ED, and F=VD, therefore

The Euler characteristics of a polyhedron and its truncated polyhedron are identical.
Let V, E, F be vertex number, edge number, and face number of the original polyhedron, and let VT, ET, and FT be the corresponding parameters for the truncated polyhedron. We have seen earlier that FT=F+V, ET = 3E, VT=2E. Therefore

If two polyhedra have Euler characteristics c1 and c2, and they are glued together along an n-gon, then the resulting polyhedron has Euler characteristics c1+c2-2.
.................. We have seen earlier that FG = F1+F2-2, EG = E1+E2-n, and VG = V1+V2-n. Then
VG-EG+FG = (V1+V2-n)-(E1+E2-n)+(F1+F2-2) = (V1-(E1+F1)+(V2-(E2+F2)-2 = c1+c2-2.

If two polyhedra have Euler characteristics 2, and they are glued together along an n-gon, then the resulting polyhedron has Euler characteristics 2 too.

Therefore many polyhedra have Euler characteristics 2. All platonic solids, all those obtained by glueing two Platonic solids together, all obtained by truncating Platonic solids or thise obtained by glueing so far, all duals of all polyhedra obtained so far, all those obtained by glueing together, or truncatiting, or dualizing any of those obtained so far, and so on.

Plane and Planar Graphs

Problem 1: Find bad-weather airplane routes between all pairs of the five cities St. Gallen, Zuerich, Lugano, Geneva, and Bern. These bad-weather routes should not intersect each other.
Problem 2: Three houses are to be connected to water , electricity, and gas plant by lines in such a way that no two of these lines are above each other (for security reasons). Try to draw the design.
Problem 3: A mother inherits her rectangular land to her five daughters. Each one is supposed to get a connected part. Furthermore, each pair of daughters should have a common border between her lands. Find a design.

Plane Graphs

A graph is plane if it is drawn in such a way that different edges don't meet each other, except at vertices they have in common, of course, where it is unavoidable. Note that edges don't have to be straight lines here, just curves, although with a little effort, by redrawing the location of the vertices, we can draw every plane graph even with straight edges in this way. Below three examples are given:

The edges of any plane graph cut the plane into pieces. These are called the regions or faces of the plane graph. One of them is unbounded, the outer region.

We define the degree of such a region to be the number of edges bounding it. Surprinsingly twice the edge number does not have to be equal to the sum of the degrees of all regions, take the graph to the right as an example. We have three regions, two of degree 4, and the outer one has degree 9. The sum is 17, but there are 9 edges. What goes wrong when we try double counting? Well, there may be edges that are not borders between different regions, but between the same region. Thus these edges don't contribute twice when counting all bounding edges of all regions. Only if we exclude this property, we arrive again at our now familiar property. So let us call a connected graph 2-edge connected, if every edge lies between different regions, not like in the example to the right, where there is an edge separating the outer region from the outer region.

Theorem (relating edge number and region numbers): For every 2-edge connected plane graph, the sum of the degrees of all regions equals twice the edge number.
2E = 3R3+4R4+5R5+... if Rn denotes the number of regions of degree n.

Every 2-edge connected plane graph has a dual, which is also a plane graph, and can be constructed like this. Inside every region of G (including the outer region) we choose one point, the "capital" of that region. Capitals of regions with a common edge are connected by an edge. This edge should only meet the two regions in question---if necessary, we can also draw the edge curved. Click on the "dualize" buttons below the graphs given above for illustrations. Clicking the button again we get the original graph. The dual of the dual is (isomorphic to) the original plane graph.

Euler's Formula for Plane Graphs: V-E+R=2 for every connected plane graph, where V denotes the number of vertices, E the number of edges, and R the number of regions including the outer region.
  1. Triangulate inside every region which is not one already, draw diagonals until you only have triangles. The number V+E-R remains invariant during this process, since V remains constant, and both E and R increase by 1 in each step. R increases since the graph was connected (otherwise connecting vertices without path between them would not increase the number of regions).
  2. Then remove triangles one by one that touch the unbounded area. There are two cases (the triangle touches the unbounded region with 1 or 2 edges)
    • If it touches the unbounded region with one edge, V remains constant, but E and R decrease by 1.
    • If it touches the unbounded region with two edges, then V decreases by 1, E decreases by 2, and R decreases by 1.
    Therefore in each case V-E+R remains invariant. At the end we have the triangle with V=3. E=3, R=2.

Since V-E+R didn't change during the steps in (1) and (2), V-E+R=2 also for the initial graph.

This formula is not true for non-connected plane graphs, see the graph to the right, which has 8 vertices, 8 edges, and 3 faces.

Planar Graphs

Graphs may be drawn in different ways, some of them plane, some not. Thus we call a graph planar if it allows a plane representation. It turns out that planar graphs cannot have too many edges with relation to the vertex number.

E <= 3V-6 for every planar graph
Using the theorem relating edge number and region dergrees above,
2E = 3R3+4R4+5R5+ ... >= 3R3+3R4+3R5+ ... =3R,
or 2E/3 >= R. We substitute this into Euler's formula V-E+R=2, we obtain V-E+2E/3 >= 2, and thus E <= 3V-6.

Since the graph K5 of 5 vertices, all of them adjacent to all others, has 10 edges, but could only have 9 if it were planar, is not planar. Problem 1 and 3 above have therefore no solution. Problem 1 asks for a plane representation of K5, which is impossible. If Problem 3 could be solved, the dual of the graph consisting of the parts as regiond would be a plane K5, which is also impossible.

E <= 2V-4 for every planar graph without three mutually adjacent vertices.
Since no three vertices are pairwise adjacent, there cannot be regions of degree 3. Then
2E = 4R4+5R5+5R5+ ... >= 4R4+4R5+4R5+ ... =4R,
or E/2 >= R. As above, we replace R in Euler's formula V-E+R=2 by this expression to obtain V-E+E/2 >= 2, and thus E <= 2V-4.

The the graph K3,3 can therefore also not be planar. It has no three mutually adjacent vertices, and 9 edges, but could only have 8 if it were planar. Problem 2 obviously asks for a plane representation of K3,3 which is impossible.

The graphs of polyhedra are planar, aren't they?

Since polyhedra are 3-dimensional, and as such rather difficult to display, we aim at a good 2-dimensional visualization. Actually, by making all faces transparent, we "see" the graph. Vertices and edges are clearly visible, but not the faces. We would like to "see these faces as well. A good plane projection of a polyhedron is a plane drawing of its graph in such a way that the regions of the graph correspond exactly to the faces of the polyhedron. The "good" should remind us that we require more than just the graph made plane.

The three graphs above are good plane representations of the doghouse polyhedron, of the cube, and of the dodecahedron.

On the other hand, let us check whether the three plane graphs shown below are good plane projections of the polyhedra obtained from two tetrahedra by identifying one vertex, identifying one edge (the red one), and identifying one face (the red triangle).

The first one is not "good". The outer region of the graph does not correspond to a face of the polyhedron, whereas two faces of the polyhedron do not correspond to regions. The second one is not good either: Again the outer region of the graph does not correspond to a face of the "polyhedron" (see the discussion below about whether glueing two tetrahedra along an edge IS a polyhedron), but two faces are not seen as regions. Only the third graph is a good plane projection of the polyhedron. The red glueing face is no longer a face---after glueing it lies inside the polyhedron.

But wouldn't we obtain a good plane projection for any (?) polyhedron in the following way: First we select one of the faces, and make it transparent. Then we place our camera (using a 360° lens!) in the middle of this face. Now we see all faces, vertices, and edges from inside. What we see is a plane graph, and the regions of it are just the faces of the polyhedron.

We will continue this discussion below, but let us now move into how to find good plane projections of truncated or glued polyhedra provided we have good plane projections for the original polyhedra. For the truncated polyhedra, we start by a good plane projection of the original polyhedron. Then we draw a small circle around each vertex. We remove all these old vertices, but add new vertices where these circles intersect former edges. These new vertices are connected cyclically by edges, and also attached to the shortened old edges. We get the faces colored yellow below. Below we see projections of the truncated tetrahedron, of the truncated cube, and the truncated truncated tetrahedron.

For the glueing, we start with a good plane projection of the first polyhedron, and a good plane projection of the second one where the face to be glued corresponds to the outer region. These second projection is taken, and put inside the region of the first projection corresponding to the face to be glued in the first polyhedron. Below, to the left, a doghouse projection (in red) is placed inside one face of the dodecahedron. In the other graph, two doghouses (in green and blue) are glued at adjacent 5-gons of another doghouse (in red). Then the resulting polyhedron is glued at another 5-gon of another doghouse.

The projection of any good plane polyhedron must obviously be connected. Moreover it must even be 2-edge connected.

Euler's Polyhedra Formula

Back to Euler's Polyhedra Formula. The issue was nagging at mathematicians for some time. Then in 1811, Lhuilier, proved the theorem wrong, while Cauchy in 1813, proved it right. How can that be? How can something be proved right and wrong?

Cauchy's proof (1813):

Take a good plane projection of the polyhedron. Then apply Euler's Formula for connected plane graphs.


Next we looked at some polyhedra, that appeared soon after the proof and wouldn't obey the formula.

The Original Sin in the theory of polyhedra goes back to Euclid, and through Kepler, Poinsot, Cauchy and many others ... [in that] at each stage ... the writers failed to define what are the 'polyhedra' ...
Branko Grünbaum
Theorem [Cauchy 1813]: Every polydron that has a good plane representation has Euler characteristics 2.


saves the proofs. A body in 3-dimensional space is convex if for every two vertices the whole straight line connecting these points is also insie the body. None of the 5 counterexamples is convex.

A little inprecise, a convex polyhedron can also be described by everything you get from a potato by peeling it with totally straight cuts until no peeling shows.

We discussed why the proof works for convex polyhedra. The first step, the projection can be achieved, since we just go close to any face with a torch to get the desired projection.

Actually it turns out that steps (2) and (3) of the proof always work, all counterexamples don't allow the projection desired in step (1). Therefore we could simply define a Cauchy polyhedron to have no faces with holes, and having the property that removing some face, the polyhedron can be stretched out as described in step (1) of the proof above. Convex polyhedra are special Cauchy polyhedra.

Theorem [Cauchy 1813]: Every convex polydron has Euler characteristics 2.
Every convex polyhedron has a good plane projection.

The Euclidian Paradigm

This method of obtaining the proof, and adjusting the definition until it works is in conflict with Euclid's paradigm, which he established in his famous "Elements":

In reality, mathematics rarely worked precisely like this. Definitions (for real number, limits, ...) were rarely specified. As Imre Lakatos claimed, things are more dynamic. It may be worthwhile to save a wrong theorem by changing the definition. Counter-examples drive mathematical progress.

"The meaning of life is to prove and conjecture"
Paul Erdös

Only Five Platonic Solids

There are exactly five Platonic solids
Let us assume we have a Platonic solid where every face has degree p and every vertex degree q. Then pF = 2E = qV. We replace V by 2E/q and F by 2E/p in Euler's formula to get
2E/q-E+2E/p=2 or E(2/q+2/p-1)=2, or E(1/q+1/p-1/2)=1,
and E=2pq/(2p+2q-pq). q and p must both be at least 3, but if both were greater, then the expression (1/q+1/p-1/2) would be nonpositive, which is impossible. Thus either p or q must be equal to 3. If p=3, we obtain E(1/q-1/6)=1, and q must be one of the numbers 3, 4, or 5. In the same way, if q=3, then either p=3, 4, or 5. We get one of

More links


  1. Draw the plane graph of the following polyhedron:
  2. Is the following plane graph a good plane projection of a polyhedron? Give some reason for your answer.
  3. Is the following plane graph a good plane projection of a polyhedron? Give some reason for your answer.
  4. A connected plane graph has nine vertices having degress 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, and 5. How many edges are there? How many regions?
  5. Is there a plane graph without vertices of degree 6 or less? Try to find one, and if you don't succeed, describe why you cannot find some. A proof would even be better.
  6. Is E <= 3R-6 for every plane graph? Why or why not?
  7. Find the dual of the following graph.