Tag Archives: sum-free

On the largest sum-free subset problem in the integers

I recently uploaded “On the largest sum-free subset problem in the integers,” to the arXiv.

Let A \subset \mathbb{Z} be a finite subset of the integers. We say A is sum-free if there are no solutions to

a + b = c,

with a,b,c \in A. We define S(A) to be the size of the largest sum-free subset of A. We seek lower bounds for S(A). It is conjectured that

S(A) \geq (n+C)/3. \ \ \ \ \ (1)

for any C > 0. Erdős established C=1 is admissible and Bourgain later improved this to C=2. By a construction, Eberhard, Green, and Manners showed that C = o(|A|).

I was originally drawn to this problem for two reasons. The first is that the aforementioned result of Erdős is the first additive combinatorics result in Tao and Vu’s additive combinatorics book. The second is that Bourgain’s original proof seemed to have a stigma that it was quite difficult.

We now sketch that C=1 is admissible, as shown by Erdős. The first idea is that the set [1/3,2/3) \subset \mathbb{R}/\mathbb{Z} is sum-free. Thus any subset of this set is also sum-free. Note this set has measure 1/3, which is the same as the multiplicative constant in (1).

The second idea is to randomly map A into [1/3,2/3). Indeed choosing

\theta \in \mathbb{R} / \mathbb{Z}

at random, we consider

\theta \cdot A \cap [1/3,2/3) \subset \mathbb{R}/\mathbb{Z}.

One can check that this set on average has size |A|/3 and as mentioned before, is sum-free.

Bourgain’s work and also our work involves more careful choices of \theta. Underpinning the work is to think of f = [1/3,2/3) - 1/3 as a function, f: \mathbb{R}/\mathbb{Z} \to \mathbb{C}, on the torus and to apply a combination of Fourier techniques and combinatorial techniques.

For a set S, we let

f_S(x) = \sum_{s \in S} f(sx).

Then the Erdős argument above may be restated as \int f_A = 0. Furthermore, (1) would follow from establishing there is an x\in \mathbb{R}/\mathbb{Z} satisfying

f_A(x) \geq C/3.

One new idea in our work is to partition A into A_0 and A_1, where A_1 is the set of elements in A that are divisible by 3. It turns out that this decomposition is useful as

f_{A_1}(x) = f_{A_1}(x+1/3) = f_{A_1}(x+2/3),


f_{A_0}(x) + f_{A_0}(x+1/3) + f_{A_0}(x+2/3) = 0.

Thus, for instance, a short argument reveals that if one can establish f_{A_1}(x) \geq C/3, then it follows that (1) for A.