Skip to the Main Content

Note:These pages make extensive use of the latest XHTML and CSS Standards. They ought to look great in any standards-compliant modern browser. Unfortunately, they will probably look horrible in older browsers, like Netscape 4.x and IE 4.x. Moreover, many posts use MathML, which is, currently only supported in Mozilla. My best suggestion (and you will thank me when surfing an ever-increasing number of sites on the web which have been crafted to use the new standards) is to upgrade to the latest version of your browser. If that's not possible, consider moving to the Standards-compliant and open-source Mozilla browser.

April 18, 2006

A Note on RCFT and Quiver Reps

Posted by Urs Schreiber

[Update: I now have some pdf notes on this issue: Note on Lax Functors and RCFT .]

Recall some basics of quiver theory:

A quiver diagram is nothing but a finite directed graph ().

Mathematicians call such graphs “quivers” when they are interested in algebra, because quivers can be taken to encode algebras.

Field theorists call such graphs quivers (or “mooses”) when they are interested in susy gauge theory, because quivers can be taken to encode certain field content in such theories.

String theorists call such graphs quivers when they are interested in D-branes on spacetimes of the form M 4 ×CY 6 (where CY 6 is a global quotient 3 /G by a finite subgroup of SU(3 )), because quivers can be taken to encode the available type of (fractional) D-branes and the sorts of strings stretching between these.

Michael R. Douglas, Gregory Moore,
D-branes, Quivers, and ALE Instantons

More precisely, every vertex of the quiver is identified with a type of D-brane, while every edge of the quiver is identified with a species of string (topological string, usually) stretching between the types of D-branes corresponding to the source and target vertex of the edge.

For an illlustration, pick any random string theory paper on quivers, for instance see figure 1 in

Marco Billo, Marialuisa Frau, Fabio Lonegro, Alberto Lerda
N=1/2 quiver gauge theories from open strings with R-R fluxes

More precisely, the configuration of these (topological) branes (and the string condensates between them) is not encoded by the quiver itself, but by a representation of the quiver (). This is essentially a functor from the quiver (regarded as a category) to vector spaces.

Now, and that’s the point of my note here, some generalization of the concept of a functor on a quiver secretly also plays a crucial role for determining the D-brane content in the FFRS description () of rational conformal field theory. Maybe there is more to that.

The purpose of the following is to point out that the argument on pp. 29-30 and pp. 66-67 of FRS I really defines a lax functor from the theory’s quiver diagram to the suspension of the representation category of its chiral data.

This argument is as follows: Pick some vertex algebra V describing the local symmetry of a class of RCFTs. Let Rep(V) be the (modular) category of representation of this algebra. A particular RCFT in this class (all whose members share the same local symmetries) is determined by any one boundary conditions (D-brane). Call this D-brane N. On the space of open string states for strings both whose ends sit on N, the operator product expansion defines an associative product and coproduct. This way the space of open NN string states induces a Frobenius algebra internal to Rep(V).

In fact, the RCFT is completely specified by Rep(V) together with this algebra of NN strings.

Now, NN strings can interact (in particular) with strings that stretch from the brane N to some other brane, N. Hence there is an object in Rep(V) which represents the space of NN string states.

Using the operator product expansion once again, we find that the algebra of NN string states acts on the space of NN string states. The latter hence forms a module for the former.

But notice, for reasons that will become important below, that we could just as well have started with the algebra of NN-states. These would act on the space of NN states from the other side. Hence the space of NN states is really a bimodule, even though we may choose to forget this fact.

The upshot of this analysis is this: An RCFT with chiral data V is the same as a (special, symmetric) Frobenius algebra of open NN string states internal to Rep(V). D-branes for this RCFT are precisely all modules for this algebra (internal to Rep(V)).

Notice how in Rep(V) we may find different collections of Frobenius algebra objects and their modules. There may be several conformal field theories (and associated collections of D-branes) for a specified chiral data.

I claim that we can neatly encode the above story, which leads to a choice of Frobenius algebra and algebra modules, in terms of a choice of quiver representation, in some slightly generalized sense.

It’s just some general abstract nonsense:

For the sake of convenience, let’s forget the bialgebra and Frobenius structure for a moment, and just consider internal algebras and their modules. Let C be any tensor category.

What is the neatest way to define an algebra internal to C? How about this one: An algebra internal to C is the same as a monad in Σ(C), which again is the same as a lax functor

(1)A:1 Σ(C).

Here Σ(C) is the 2-category with a single object and one morphism per object of C. 1 is the category with a single morphism.

A lax functor is a functor from a 1- to a 2-category which respects units and composition only up to some coherent 2-morphisms. (Not necessarily an 2-isomorphism!) These 2-morphisms are nothing but the unit and the product of the algebra. Their coherence is the algebra’s associativity and unit law.

What is the neatest way to define a module for an inernal algebra, more precisely, to define a module which is really a bimodule? Easy: let

(2)2 :={NN}

be the category with two objects, N and N, and one nontrivial morphism between these. A collection of two internal algebras in C together with an internal bimodule for them is nothing but a lax functor

(3)A:2 Σ(C).

The NN-algebra is the image of NIdN under A, The NN-algebra is the image of NIdN under A, and so on. Now A has two more coherent 2-isomorphism compared to the case before. One of them yields the left A NN-action on the bimodule which is the image of NN under A, the other one encodes the right action.

The pattern now is clear. Consider any category Q with objects N 1 ,N 2 ,N 3 , and specified nontrivial morphisms between these (a “quiver”). A lax functor


encodes the same data as an algebra internal to C for each object of Q, together with an internal bimodule for each nontrivial morphism of Q.

But it’s a bit pitiful for a functor to be just lax. It would be much nicer if it were pseudo. However, a pseudofunctor


is the same as a collection of algebras and bimodules internal to C, all of whose products, left and right actions are invertible morphisms. That’s an interesting special case of our lax functor, but for the most general situation that we may be intersted in it is a little too strong a condition.

But there is an obvious choice in between lax and pseudo, namely that where to every coherent 2-morphism coming from the lax functor there is one going the other way round, such that the two obvious “bubble moves” are satisfied. For lack of a better name, let me call this a “special lax functor”.

A special lax functor


is a slight generalization of the ordinary concept of a representation of the quiver Q. Maybe I should call it a “generalized quiver representation”.

The generalized quiver representation


is the same thing as one special Frobenius algebra internal to C per object of Q, together with one bimodule for the Frobenius algebras per morphism of Q.

Hence we find that the central theorem of FRS, which says that a full RCFT is the same thing as a modular category Rep(V) of Moore-Seiberg data together with a special (and symmetric) Frobenius alegbra internal to Rep(V), can be rephrased as saying that

A background configuration of a RCFT is a generalized quiver representation with values in Σ(Rep(V)).

Update: In the above I did not cleanly distinguish between the RCFT and its background configurations. (But see the pdf notes for more on that).

The point is that we want to distinguish between the RCFT with all of its admissable boundary conditions, and setups where we intentionally restrict attention to just a subcollection of these boundary conditions. The latter corresponds to choosing some “background” and “adding” some collection of D-branes to it.

Hence a lax functor ΓΣ(C) defines a “background with D-branes” for the full RCFT which is given by any one of the boundary conditions (and all the modules of the algebra of string states on that boundary).

The interesting thing is that this allows us to define the natural notion of category of rational string backgrounds. It’s just the category of these functors. This might be just the right way to talk about the “landscape” of rational conformal field theories.

Posted at April 18, 2006 4:41 PM UTC

TrackBack URL for this Entry:

1 Comment & 2 Trackbacks

Read the post Jurco on Gerbes and Stringy Applications
Weblog: The String Coffee Table
Excerpt: Jurco reviews some facts concerning nonabelian gerbes in string theory.
Tracked: April 19, 2006 11:36 AM

Re: A Note on RCFT and Quiver Reps

I have now prepared some pdf notes with more details:

Note on Lax Functors and RCFT.

Posted by: urs on April 19, 2006 6:04 PM | Permalink | Reply to this
Read the post Quillen's Superconnections -- Functorially
Weblog: The String Coffee Table
Excerpt: On how to interpret the superconnections appearing on brane/anti-brane configurations in terms of functorial transport.
Tracked: July 27, 2006 1:45 PM

Post a New Comment