nLab elliptic cohomology



Elliptic cohomology



Special and general types

Special notions


Extra structure





An elliptic cohomology theory is a type of generalized (Eilenberg-Steenrod) cohomology theory associated with the datum of an elliptic curve.

Even (weakly) periodic multiplicative generalized (Eilenberg-Steenrod) cohomology theories AA are characterized by the formal group whose ring of functions A(P )A(\mathbb{C}P^\infty) is the cohomology ring of AA evaluated on the complex projective space P \mathbb{C}P^\infty and whose group product is induced from the canonical morphism P ×P P \mathbb{C}P^\infty \times \mathbb{C}P^\infty \to \mathbb{C}P^\infty that describes the tensor product of complex line bundles under the identification P U(1)\mathbb{C}P^\infty \simeq \mathcal{B} U(1).

There are precisely three types of 1-dimensional such formal group laws:

An elliptic cohomology theory is an even periodic multiplicative generalized (Eilenberg-Steenrod) cohomology theory whose corresponding formal group is an elliptic curve, hence which is represented by an elliptic spectrum.

(e.g. Lurie, def. 1.2).

The Goerss-Hopkins-Miller-Lurie theorem shows that the assignment of generalized (Eilenberg-Steenrod) cohomology theories to elliptic curves lifts to an assignment of representing spectra in a structure-preserving way.

The homotopy limit of this assignment functor, i.e. the “gluing” of all spectra representing all elliptic cohomology theories is the spectrum that represents the cohomology theory called tmf.


Genera, the elliptic genus and relation to string theory

A properly developed theory of elliptic cohomology is likely to shed some light on what string theory really means. (Witten 87, very last sentence)

The following is rough material originating from notes taken live (and long ago), to be polished. See also at elliptic genus and Witten genus

Some topological invariants of manifolds that are of interest:

we restricted attention to closed connected smooth manifolds XX

  • the Euler characteristic e(X)e(X) \in \mathbb{Z}

    • takes all values in \mathbb{Z}

    • is the obstruction to the existence of a nowhere vanishing vector field on XX:

      (e(X)=0)(vΓ(TX):xX:v(x)0) (e(X)= 0) \Leftrightarrow (\exists v \in \Gamma(T X) : \forall x \in X : v(x) \neq 0)
  • signaturesgn(X)sgn(X)

    this is the obstruction to XX being cobordant to a fiber bundle over the circle:

    XX is bordant to a fiber bundle over S 1S^1 precisely if sgn(X)=0sgn(X) = 0

  • when XX has a spin structure

    the index of the Dirac operator DD:

    indD X ind D_X \in \mathbb{Z}
    α(D){ dimX=0mod4 2 dimX=1,2mod8 0 otherwise \alpha(D) \in \left\{ \array{ \mathbb{Z} & dim X = 0 mod 4 \\ \mathbb{Z}_2 & dim X = 1, 2 mod 8 \\ 0 & otherwise } \right.

    theorem (Gromov-Lawson / Stolz) let dimX5dim X \geq 5 and

    then XX admits a Riemannian metric of positive scalar curvature precisely when α(X)=0\alpha(X) = 0

These invariants share the following properties:

  • they are additive under disjoint union of manifolds

  • they are multiplicative under cartesian product of manifolds

  • e(X)mod2,sgn(X),ind(D X)e(X) mod 2, sgn(X), ind(D_X) all vanish when XX is a boundary, W:X=W\exists W : X = \partial W, which means that XX is cobordant to the empty manifold \emptyset.

    in other words, these invariants are genera, namely ring homomorphisms

    ΩR \Omega \to R

    form the cobordism ring Ω\Omega to some commutative ring RR

  • good genera are those which reflect geometric properties of XX.

  • now for XX a topological space consider the cobordism ring over XX:

    Ω(X):={(M,f)|f:MXcont}/ bordism \Omega(X) := \{(M,f)| f : M \stackrel{cont}{\to X}\}/_{bordism}

    where addition and multiplication are again given by disjoint union and cartesian product.

    this assignment of rings to topological spaces is a generalized homology theory: cobordism homology theory

    question given a genus ΩR\Omega \to R, can we find a homology theory R()R(-) with R=R(pt)R = R(pt) its homology ring over the point and such that it all fits into a natural diagram

    Ω R Ω(X) ρ R(X) \array{ \Omega &\to& R \\ \uparrow && \uparrow \\ \Omega(X) &\stackrel{\rho}{\to}& R(X) }

    This would be a parameterized extension ρ=R()\rho = R(-) of RR .

    Now let XX be a closed manifold.

    consider u X:XK(π 1(X),1)u_X : X \to K(\pi_1(X),1) (on the right an Eilenberg-MacLane space) which is the classifying map for the universal cover

    u *π 1(X) canonπ 1(K(π 1(X),1)) u_* \pi_1(X) \stackrel{\simeq_{canon}}{\to} \pi_1(K(\pi_1(X), 1))

    then consider

    ρ X[X,u X]R(K(π 1(X),1)) \rho_X[X, u_X] \in R(K(\pi_1(X),1))

    theorem (Julia Weber)

    take the Euler characteristic mod 2, Eu(X)Eu(X)

    Ω 0 Eu(M)t dimM 2[t] Ω 0(X) Eu(X) H (X; 2[t]) \array{ \Omega^0 &\stackrel{Eu(M)\cdot t^{dim M}}{\to}& \mathbb{Z}_2[t] \\ \uparrow && \uparrow \\ \Omega^0(X) &\to& Eu(X) & \simeq H_\bullet(X; \mathbb{Z}_2[t]) }

    for XX smooth we have then:

    Eu X[X,id]=PoincaredualoftotalStiefelWhitneyclass Eu_X[X, id] = Poincare\; dual\; of\; total\; Stiefel-Whitney\; class

    theorem (Minalta)

    something analogous for signature genus

    Ω SO Sig (X) \array{ \Omega_\bullet^{SO} &\to& Sig_\bullet(X) }

    sign X[X,u]sig (K)sign_X[X,u] \in sig_\bullet(K) \otimes \mathbb{Q}

    this is the Novikov higher signature

    now the same for the α\alpha-genus

    Ω X Spin α KO (pt) Ω Spin KO (X) \array{ \Omega_{X}^{Spin} &\stackrel{\alpha}{\to}& KO_\bullet(pt) \\ \uparrow && \uparrow \\ \Omega_\bullet^{Spin} &\to& KO_\bullet(X) }

now towards elliptic genera: recall the notion of string structure of a manifold XX: a lift of the structure map XO(n)X \to \mathcal{B}O(n) through the 4th connected universal cover String(n):=O(n)4O\mathcal{B}String(n) := \mathcal{B}O(n)\langle 4\rangle \to \mathcal{B} O:

so consider String manifolds and the bordism ring Ω String\Omega_\bullet^{String} of String manifold, let M M_\bullet be the ring of integral modular forms, then there is a genus – the Witten genus WW

Ω String W M Ω String(X) M (X) tmf (X) \array{ \Omega_\bullet^{String} &\stackrel{W}{\to}& M_\bullet \\ \uparrow && \uparrow \\ \Omega_\bullet^{String}(X) &\to& M_\bullet(X) \\ &\searrow& \\ && tmf_\bullet(X) }

where Ω String(pt)tmf (pt)\Omega_\bullet^{String}(pt) \to tmf_\bullet(pt) is surjective

conjecture (Stolz conjecture)

If a String manifold YY has a positive Ricci curvature metric, then the Witten genus vanishes.

The attempted “Proof” of this is the motivation for the Stolz-Teichner-program for geometric models for elliptic cohomology:

“Proof” If YY is String, then the loop space LYL Y is has spin structure, so if YY has positive Ricci curvature the LYL Y has positive scalar curvature which implies by the above that ind S 1D LY=0ind^{S^1} D_{L Y} = 0 which by the index formula is the Witten genus.

Equivariant elliptic cohomology and loop group representations

The analog of the orbit method with equivariant K-theory replaced by equivariant elliptic cohomology yields (aspects of) the representation theory of loop groups. (Ganter 12)

Chromatic filtration

chromatic homotopy theory

chromatic levelcomplex oriented cohomology theoryE-∞ ring/A-∞ ringreal oriented cohomology theory
0ordinary cohomologyEilenberg-MacLane spectrum HH \mathbb{Z}HZR-theory
0th Morava K-theoryK(0)K(0)
1complex K-theorycomplex K-theory spectrum KUKUKR-theory
first Morava K-theoryK(1)K(1)
first Morava E-theoryE(1)E(1)
2elliptic cohomologyelliptic spectrum Ell EEll_E
second Morava K-theoryK(2)K(2)
second Morava E-theoryE(2)E(2)
algebraic K-theory of KUK(KU)K(KU)
3 …10K3 cohomologyK3 spectrum
nnnnth Morava K-theoryK(n)K(n)
nnth Morava E-theoryE(n)E(n)BPR-theory
n+1n+1algebraic K-theory applied to chrom. level nnK(E n)K(E_n) (red-shift conjecture)
\inftycomplex cobordism cohomologyMUMR-theory

moduli spaces of line n-bundles with connection on nn-dimensional XX

nnCalabi-Yau n-foldline n-bundlemoduli of line n-bundlesmoduli of flat/degree-0 n-bundlesArtin-Mazur formal group of deformation moduli of line n-bundlescomplex oriented cohomology theorymodular functor/self-dual higher gauge theory of higher dimensional Chern-Simons theory
n=0n = 0unit in structure sheafmultiplicative group/group of unitsformal multiplicative groupcomplex K-theory
n=1n = 1elliptic curveline bundlePicard group/Picard schemeJacobianformal Picard groupelliptic cohomology3d Chern-Simons theory/WZW model
n=2n = 2K3 surfaceline 2-bundleBrauer groupintermediate Jacobianformal Brauer groupK3 cohomology
n=3n = 3Calabi-Yau 3-foldline 3-bundleintermediate JacobianCY3 cohomology7d Chern-Simons theory/M5-brane
nnintermediate Jacobian


Elliptic cohomology


The concept of elliptic cohomology originates around:

and in the universal guise of topological modular forms in:

  • Michael Hopkins, Algebraic topology and modular forms in Proceedings of the International Congress of Mathematicians, Vol. I (Beijing, 2002), pages 291–317, Beijing, 2002. Higher Ed. Press (arXiv:math/0212397)


Textbook accounts:

Equivariant elliptic cohomology

On equivariant elliptic cohomology and positive energy representations of loop groups:

Relation to Kac-Weyl characters of loop group representations

The case of twisted ad-equivariant Tate K-theory:

See also:

Via derived E E_\infty-geometry

Formulation of (equivariant) elliptic cohomology in derived algebraic geometry/E-∞ geometry (derived elliptic curves):

Elliptic genera


The general concept of elliptic genus originates with:

Early development:


  • Peter Landweber, Elliptic genera: An introductory overview In: P. Landweber (eds.) Elliptic Curves and Modular Forms in Algebraic Topology, Lecture Notes in Mathematics, vol 1326. Springer (1988) (doi:10.1007/BFb0078036)

  • Kefeng Liu, Modular forms and topology, Proc. of the AMS Conference on the Monster and Related Topics, Contemporary Math. (1996) (pdf, pdf, doi:10.1090/conm/193)

  • Serge Ochanine, What is… an elliptic genus?, Notices of the AMS, volume 56, number 6 (2009) (pdf)

The Stolz conjecture on the Witten genus:

The Jacobi form-property of the Witten genus:

  • Matthew Ando, Christopher French, Nora Ganter, The Jacobi orientation and the two-variable elliptic genus, Algebraic and Geometric Topology 8 (2008) p. 493-539 (pdf)

The identification of elliptic genera, via fiber integration/Pontrjagin-Thom collapse, as complex orientations of elliptic cohomology (sigma-orientation/string-orientation of tmf/spin-orientation of Tate K-theory):

For the Ochanine genus:

Equivariant elliptic genera

Genera in equivariant elliptic cohomology and the rigidity theorem for equivariant elliptic genera:

The statement, with a string theory-motivated plausibility argument, is due to Witten 87.

The first proof was given in:

Reviewed in:

  • Raoul Bott, On the Fixed Point Formula and the Rigidity Theorems of Witten, Lectures at Cargése 1987. In: ’t Hooft G., Jaffe A., Mack G., Mitter P.K., Stora R. (eds) Nonperturbative Quantum Field Theory. NATO ASI Series (Series B: Physics), vol 185. Springer (1988) (doi:10.1007/978-1-4613-0729-7_2)

Further proofs and constructions:

On manifolds with SU(2)-action:

Twisted elliptic genera

Discussion of elliptic genera twisted by a gauge bundle, i.e. for string^c structure):

Elliptic genera as super pp-brane partition functions

The interpretation of elliptic genera (especially the Witten genus) as the partition function of a 2d superconformal field theory (or Landau-Ginzburg model) – and especially of the heterotic string (“H-string”) or type II superstring worldsheet theory has precursors in

and then strictly originates with:

Review in:


Via super vertex operator algebra

Formulation via super vertex operator algebras:

and for the topologically twisted 2d (2,0)-superconformal QFT (the heterotic string with enhanced supersymmetry) via sheaves of vertex operator algebras in

based on chiral differential operators:

In relation to error-correcting codes:

  • Kohki Kawabata, Shinichiro Yahagi, Elliptic genera from classical error-correcting codes [[arXiv:2308.12592]]
Via Dirac-Ramond operators on free loop space

Tentative interpretation as indices of Dirac-Ramond operators as would-be Dirac operators on smooth loop space:

Via conformal nets

Tentative formulation via conformal nets:

Conjectural interpretation in tmf-cohomology

The resulting suggestion that, roughly, deformation-classes (concordance classes) of 2d SCFTs with target space XX are the generalized cohomology of XX with coefficients in the spectrum of topological modular forms (tmf):

and the more explicit suggestion that, under this identification, the Chern-Dold character from tmf to modular forms, sends a 2d SCFT to its partition function/elliptic genus/supersymmetric index:

This perspective is also picked up in Gukov, Pei, Putrov & Vafa 18.

Discussion of the 2d SCFTs (namely supersymmetric SU(2)-WZW-models) conjecturally corresponding, under this conjectural identification, to the elements of /24\mathbb{Z}/24 \simeq tmf 3(*)=π 3(tmf) tmf^{-3}(\ast) = \pi_3(tmf) \simeq π 3(𝕊)\pi_3(\mathbb{S}) (the third stable homotopy group of spheres):

Discussion properly via (2,1)-dimensional Euclidean field theory:

See also:

Occurrences in string theory

H-string elliptic genus

Further on the elliptic genus of the heterotic string being the Witten genus:

The interpretation of equivariant elliptic genera as partition functions of parametrized WZW models in heterotic string theory:

Proposals on physics aspects of lifting the Witten genus to topological modular forms:

M5-brane elliptic genus

On the M5-brane elliptic genus:

A 2d SCFT argued to describe the KK-compactification of the M5-brane on a 4-manifold (specifically: a complex surface) originates with

Discussion of the resulting elliptic genus (2d SCFT partition function) originates with:

Further discussion in:

M-string elliptic genus

On the elliptic genus of M-strings inside M5-branes:

E-string elliptic genus

On the elliptic genus of E-strings as wrapped M5-branes:

On the elliptic genus of E-strings as M2-branes ending on M5-branes:

Last revised on September 15, 2021 at 07:32:48. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.