Monthly Archives: October 2018

Cycles, Rings, Strong rings

In chemical graph theory or chemical-related topology a distinction is made between a cycle, a ring, and a strong ring. It is relatively easy to define a cycle:

A cycle is a continuous path (along edges) in which the start and end vertex are the same.

So this means a cycle (also sometimes called a circuit) can be of any size, regardless if there are shorter (or also longer) paths to get back to the ‘home vertex’. We can also say that a cycle is a closed path.

What might be a little more difficult to understand is the formal definition of a ring:

A ring is a cycle that is not the sum of any two smaller cycles.

It is important to emphasize both attributes: two and smaller. The first conclusion is: Okey, in a graph or net there might be rings that are the sum of three, four, five (smaller) cycles, but a cycle is not a ring if it is the sum of exactly two (smaller) cycles.

In the following figure the graph of a cube is shown and some cycles (highlighted in red) within this graph:

Which of these cycles are rings? I think it is clear, that the two cycles in the top row are rings. Furthermore, the cycle in the middle in the bottom row is a ring, while the left and right cycle are not rings.  Why? Well, the 6-cycle on the left is the sum of two smaller 4-cycles. The 6-cycle in the middle is the sum of three(!) smaller cycles but not the sum of two smaller cycles. And the 8-cycle on the right can be considered as the sum of a 4-cycle and a 6-cycle (the latter can be formed as the sum of two smaller 4-cycles, the top-most and the central one):

Well, but shouldn’t it be possible to build the 6-cycle in the middle as the sum of a 4-cycle (top-most) and a 6-cycle (which itself be the sum of the central and right 4-cycles)? Yes, that is correct, but the definition states that the cycles of a sum of cycles have to be smaller! This is not the case here!

Interestingly, there is an alternative definition of a ring which is, at least for me, much more intuitive and comprehensible:

A ring is a cycle that contains along its path no potential short-cut (of the length of exactly one edge) to the ‘home vertex’.

It is easy to see that the cycle on the left has one short-cut and the cycle on the right even two (dashed edges):

So, what are now strong rings? They can be defined as follows:

Strong rings are rings that are not the sum of any number of smaller cycles.

From that definition It follows that only the two cycles in the top row are strong rings.

I would like to thank Michael Fischer (@ZeoliteMiFi) for helpful discussions.






  • Named after Johann August Streng (1830-1897), German mineralogist, University of Giessen, Germany
  • Formula: FePO4 · 2 H2O
  • Space group: Pbca (No. 61)
  • Crystal system: orthorhombic
  • Crystal class: mmm
  • Lattice parameters: a = 8.722 Å, = 9.878 Å, c = 10.8117 Å, αβ = γ = 90°

Picture: Christian Rewitzer  | CC BY-SA-3.0

Crystal structure (click on the picture to download the VESTA file):

(K. Momma and F. Izumi, “VESTA 3 for three-dimensional visualization of crystal, volumetric and morphology data,”J. Appl. Crystallogr., 44, 1272-1276 (2011).)

  • FeO6 octahedra (dark-red)
  • POtetrahedra (green-blue)
  • Oxygen (red)
  • Hydrogen (white)

For a 3D interactive version on sketchfab, see here: