In the mathematical field of graph theory, the Laplacian matrix, also called the graph Laplacian, admittance matrix, Kirchhoff matrix or discrete Laplacian, is a matrix representation of a graph. Named after Pierre-Simon Laplace, the graph Laplacian matrix can be viewed as a matrix form of the negative discrete Laplace operator on a graph approximating the negative continuous Laplacian obtained by the finite difference method.
The Laplacian matrix relates to many useful properties of a graph. Together with Kirchhoff's theorem, it can be used to calculate the number of spanning trees for a given graph. The sparsest cut of a graph can be approximated through the Fiedler vector — the eigenvector corresponding to the second smallest eigenvalue of the graph Laplacian — as established by Cheeger's inequality. The spectral decomposition of the Laplacian matrix allows constructing low dimensional embeddings that appear in many machine learning applications and determines a spectral layout in graph drawing. Graph-based signal processing is based on the graph Fourier transform that extends the traditional discrete Fourier transform by substituting the standard basis of complex sinusoids for eigenvectors of the Laplacian matrix of a graph corresponding to the signal.
The Laplacian matrix is the easiest to define for a simple graph, but more common in applications for an edge-weighted graph, i.e., with weights on its edges — the entries of the graph adjacency matrix. Spectral graph theory relates properties of a graph to a spectrum, i.e., eigenvalues, and eigenvectors of matrices associated with the graph, such as its adjacency matrix or Laplacian matrix. Imbalanced weights may undesirably affect the matrix spectrum, leading to the need of normalization — a column/row scaling of the matrix entries — resulting in normalized adjacency and Laplacian matrices.