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Algebraic Quantum Field Theory or Axiomatic Quantum Field Theory or AQFT for short is a formalization of quantum field theory (and specifically full, hence non-perturbative quantum field theory) that axiomatizes the assignment of algebras of observables to patches of parameter space (spacetime, worldvolume) that one expects a quantum field theory to provide.

As such, the approach of AQFT is roughly dual to that of FQFT, where instead spaces of states are assigned to boundaries of cobordisms and propagation maps between state spaces to cobordisms themselves.

One may roughly think of AQFT as being a formalization of what in basic quantum mechanics textbooks is called the Heisenberg picture of quantum mechanics. On the other hand FQFT axiomatizes the Schrödinger picture .

The axioms of traditional AQFT encode the properties of a local net of observables and are called the Haag-Kastler axioms. They are one of the oldest systems of axioms that seriously attempt to put quantum field theory on a solid conceptual footing.

From the nPOV we may think of a local net as a co-flabby copresheaf of algebras on spacetime which satisfies a certain locality axiom with respect to the Lorentzian structure of spacetime:

  • locality: algebras assigned to spacelike separated regions commute with each other when embedded into any joint superalgebra.

This is traditionally formulated (implicitly) as a structure in ordinary category theory. More recently, with the proof of the cobordism hypothesis and the corresponding (∞,n)-category-formulation of FQFT also higher categorical versions of systems of local algebras of observables are being put forward and studied. Three structures are curently being studied, that are all conceptually very similar and similar to the Haag-Kastler axioms:

On the other hand, all three of these encode what in physics are called Euclidean quantum field theories, whereas only the notion of local net so far really incorporates crucially the fact that the underlying spacetime of a quantum field theory is a smooth Lorentzian space.

In the context of the Haag-Kastler axioms there is a precise theorem, the Osterwalder-Schrader theorem, relating the Euclidean to the Lorentzian formulation: this is the operation known as Wick rotation.

Sheaves are used explicitly in:

— much information to be filled in —




Generically the algebra of a relativistic AQFT turns out to be a (the) hyperfinite type III 1III_1 von Neumann algebra factor. See (Yngvason)


Examples of AQFT local nets of observables that encode interacting quantum field theories are not easy to construct. The construction of free field theories is well understood, see the references below. In perturbation theory also interacting theories can be constructed, see the references here.

Free scalar field / Klein Gordon field

A survey of the AQFT description of the free scalar field on Minkowski spacetime is in (Motoya, slides 11-17). Discussion in more general context of AQFT on curved spacetimes in (Brunetti-Fredenhagen, section 5.2)

Free fermion / Dirac field

The free fermion / Dirac field and its deformations is discussed for instance in (DLM, section 3.2), (Dimock 83).

Electromagnetic field

The quantized electromagnetic field is discussed for instance in (Dimock 92).

Proca field


duality between algebra and geometry in physics:

Poisson algebraPoisson manifold
deformation quantizationgeometric quantization
algebra of observablesspace of states
Heisenberg pictureSchrödinger picture
higher algebrahigher geometry
Poisson n-algebran-plectic manifold
En-algebrashigher symplectic geometry
BD-BV quantizationhigher geometric quantization
factorization algebra of observablesextended quantum field theory
factorization homologycobordism representation



The original article that introduced the Haag-Kastler axioms is

  • Rudolf Haag, Daniel Kastler, An algebraic approach to quantum field theory , Journal of Mathematical Physics, Bd.5, 1964, S.848-861

The generalization of the spacetime site from open in Minkowski space to more general and curved spacetimes (see AQFT on curved spacetimes) is due to

See also AQFT on curved spacetimes .


Classical textbooks are

A good account of the mathematical axiomatics of Haag-Kastler AQFT is

This is, among other things, the ideal starting point for pure mathematicians who have always been left puzzled or otherwise unsatisfied by accounts of quantum field theory, even those tagged as being “for mathematicians”. AQFT is truly axiomatic and rigorously formal.

An account written by mathematicians for mathematicians is this:

and this:

A classic of the trade is this one:

  • Bogolyubov, Logunov, Oksak, Todorov: General principles of quantum field theory (Mathematical Physics and Applied Mathematics, 10. Dordrecht etc.: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1990)


Recent account of the principle of locality in AQFT from the point of view of traditional school

  • Franco Strocchi, Relativistic Quantum Mechanics and Field Theory, Found.Phys. 34 (2004) 501-527 (arXiv:hep-th/0401143)

  • Sergio Doplicher, The principle of locality: Effectiveness, fate, and challenges, J. Math. Phys. 51, 015218 (2010), [doi] (

  • Franco Strocchi, An Introduction to Non-Perturbative Foundations of Quantum Field Theory, Oxford University Press, 2013

Talk slides include

  • Edison Montoya, Algebraic quantum field theory (2009) (pdf)


Construction of examples is considered for instance in

  • Jonathan Dimock, Dirac quantum fields on a manifold, Trans. Amer. Math. Soc. 269 (1982), 133-147. (web)
  • Jonathan Dimock, Quantized electromagnetic field on a manifdold, Reviews in mathematical physics, Volume 4, Issue 2 (1992) (web)
  • Edward Furliani, Quantization of massive vector fields in curved space–time, J. Math. Phys. 40, 2611 (1999) (web)

General discussion of AQFT quantization of free fields is in

Local gauge theory

Discussion of aspects of gauge theory includes

Construction and axiomatization of gauge field AQFT via homotopy theory and homotopical algebra (see also at field bundle) is being developed in

The issue of the tension between local gauge invariance and locality and the need to pass to stacks/higher geometry is made explicit in

Further development of this homotopy theoretic version of AQFT includes

Perturbation theory and renormalization

Perturbation theory and renormalization in the context of AQFT and is discussed in the following articles.

The observation that in perturbation theory the Stückelberg-Bogoliubov-Epstein-Glaser local S-matrices yield a local net of observables was first made in

  • V. Il’in, D. Slavnov, Observable algebras in the S-matrix approach Theor. Math. Phys. 36 , 32 (1978)

which was however mostly ignored and forgotten. It is taken up again in

  • Romeo Brunetti, Klaus Fredenhagen, Microlocal Analysis and Interacting Quantum Field Theories: Renormalization on Physical Backgrounds Commun.Math.Phys.208:623-661 (2000) (arXiv)

(a quick survey is in section 8, details are in section 2).

Further developments along these lines are in

(relation to deformation quantization)

(relation to renormalization)

(relation to gauge theory and QED)

Further developments

  • C. Dappiaggi, Gandalf Lechner?, E. Morfa-Morales, Deformations of quantum field theories on spacetimes with Killing vector fields, Commun.Math.Phys.305:99-130, (2011), (arXiv:1006.3548)

Relation to functorial QFT

A relation to FQFT is discussed in

  • Urs Schreiber, AQFT from nn-functorial QFT , Comm. Math. Phys., Volume 291, Issue 2, pp.357-401 (pdf)

The role of von Neumann algebra factors is discussed in

Revised on December 20, 2016 14:01:13 by Urs Schreiber (