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We consider ordered pairs (X,B) where X is a finite set of size v and B is some collection of k-element subsets of X such that every t-element subset of X is contained in exactly λ "blocks'' b ∈B for some fixed λ. We represent each block b by a zero-one vector c_b of length v and explore the ideal I(B) of polynomials in v variables with complex coefficients which vanish on the set { c_b ∣ b ∈ B}. After setting up the basic theory, we investigate two parameters related to this ideal: γ1(B) is the smallest degree of a non-trivial polynomial in the ideal I(B) and γ2(B) is the smallest integer s such that I(B) is generated by a set of polynomials of degree at most s. We first prove the general bounds t/2 < γ1(B) ≤ γ2(B) ≤ k. Examining important families of examples, we find that, for symmetric 2-designs and Steiner systems, we have γ2(B) ≤ t. But we expect γ2(B) to be closer to k for less structured designs and we indicate this by constructing infinitely many triple systems satisfying γ2(B) = k.

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