Friday, October 3, 2008 - 15:00
1 hour (actually 50 minutes)
This is an expository account of recent work on the enumeration of maps (graphs embedded on a surface of arbitrary genus) and branched covers of the sphere. These combinatorial and geometric objects can both be represented by permutation factorizations, in the which the subgroup generated by the factors acts transitively on the underlying symbols (these are called "transitive factorizations"). Various results and methods are discussed, including a number of methods from mathematical physics, such as matrix integrals and the KP hierarchy of integrable systems. A notable example of the results is a recent recurrence for triangulations of a surface of arbitrary genus obtained from the simplest partial differential equation in the KP hierarchy. The recurrence is very simple, but we do not know a combinatorial interpretation of it, yet it leads to precise asymptotics for the number of triangulations with n edges, of a surface of genus g.