On the Erdős distinct distances problem in the plane


In this paper, we prove that a set of $N$ points in ${\bf R}^2$ has at least $c{N \over \log N}$ distinct distances, thus obtaining the sharp exponent in a problem of Erdős. We follow the setup of Elekes and Sharir which, in the spirit of the Erlangen program, allows us to study the problem in the group of rigid motions of the plane. This converts the problem to one of point-line incidences in space. We introduce two new ideas in our proof. In order to control points where many lines are incident, we create a cell decomposition using the polynomial ham sandwich theorem. This creates a dichotomy: either most of the points are in the interiors of the cells, in which case we immediately get sharp results or, alternatively, the points lie on the walls of the cells, in which case they are in the zero-set of a polynomial of suprisingly low degree, and we may apply the algebraic method. In order to control points incident to only two lines, we use the flecnode polynomial of the Rev. George Salmon to conclude that most of the lines lie on a ruled surface. Then we use the geometry of ruled surfaces to complete the proof.


Larry Guth

Department of Mathematics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139-2387

Nets Hawk Katz

Mathematics 253-37, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125