nLab von Neumann algebra factor




Functional analysis



For AA a von Neumann algebra write AA' for its commutant in the ambient algebra B()B(\mathcal{H}) of bounded operators.


A von Neumann algebra AA is called a factor if its center is trivial

Z(A):=AA=1. Z(A) := A \cap A' = \mathbb{C}1 \,.

Equivalently: if AA and its commutant AA' generate the full algebra of bounded operators B()B(\mathcal{H}).


Every von Neumann algebra may be written as a direct integral over factors. (von Neumann 49)


Factors are classified in terms of the K-theory of their categories of finite W*-modules?. A W*-module? over a factor AA is finite if it is not isomorphic to its proper submodule.

Type I

Type I factors are characterized by the condition that the K-theory of finite modules is isomorphic to Z\mathbf{Z}, the group of integers. The only factors of this type are of the from B(H)B(H), bounded operators on a Hilbert space HH.

Type II

Type II factors are characterized by the condition that the K-theory of finite modules is isomorphic to R\mathbf{R}, the group of real numbers.

Type II factors are subdivided into two classes: type II1_1 factors are characterized by the condition that AA is a finite AA-module, whereas for a type II_\infty factor AA is not a finite AA-module.

Type III

Type III factors are characterized by the condition that the K-theory of finite modules is trivial, i.e., only the zero module is finite.

Type III factors are further subdivided into three classes, according to the structure of the center of their modular algebra?, which is a commutative von Neumann algebra graded by purely imaginary numbers, whose graded components are noncommutative L^p-spaces?.

By the von Neumann duality? for commutative von Neumann algebras, the spectrum of this center is a measurable space equipped with a σ-ideal of negligible sets and the grading yields an action of R\mathbf{R}, the group of real numbers. This object is known as the noncommutative flow of weights?.

If the center is trivial (so the spectrum is a point), the factor has type III1_1. If the action of R\mathbf{R} is not periodic, then the factor has type III0_0. If the action is periodic with period λ\lambda, a positive real number, then the factor has type IIIexp(λ)_{\exp(-\lambda)}.



The original articles:

The classification of factors into types I, II, III and the construction of examples not of type I:

Discussion of traces on these factors:

On isomorphism of factors and proof of a single isomorphism class of approximately finite type II 1II_1 factors:

On decomposing von Neumann algebras as a direct integral of factors:

Recollection of the history which made von Neumann turn to discussion of these “factors”, motivated from considerations in the foundations of quantum mechanics and quantum logic:

  • Miklos Rédei, Why John von Neumann did not Like the Hilbert Space formalism of quantum mechanics (and what he liked instead), Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 27 4 (1996) 493-510 [doi:10.1016/S1355-2198(96)00017-2]

Lecture notes:

  • V.S. Sunder, von Neumann algebras, II 1II_1-factors, and their subfactors [pdf]

  • Hideki Kosaki, Type III factors and index theory (1993) [pdf]

Exposition with an eye towards discussion of entanglement entropy:

  • Jonathan Sorce, Notes on the type classification of von Neumann algebras [arXiv:2302.01958]


The mathematics of inclusions of subfactors is giving deep structural insights. See also at planar algebra.

  • Vaughan Jones,

    Index for subfactors, Invent. Math. 72, I (I983);

    A polynomial invariant for links via von Neumann algebras, Bull. AMS 12, 103 (1985);

    Hecke algebra representations of braid groups and link polynomials, Ann. Math. 126, 335 (1987)

  • Vaughan Jones, Scott Morrison, Noah Snyder, The classification of subfactors of index at most 5 (arXiv:1304.6141)

  • Vaughan F. R. Jones, David Penneys, Infinite index subfactors and the GICAR categories, arxiv/1410.0856

Symmetries of depth two inclusions of subfactors may be described via associative bialgebroids,

  • Lars Kadison, Kornél Szlachányi, Bialgebroid actions on depth two extensions and duality, Adv. Math. 179:1 (2003) 75-121 doi

Relation to quantum field theory

On von Neumann algebra factors as algebras of quantum observables in quantum physics and quantum field theory (which was their original motivation, cf. Rédei 1996):

and particularly in quantum field theory on curved spacetime:

such as on de Sitter spacetime:

and potential application of von Neumann algebra factors to quantum gravity:

Last revised on April 1, 2024 at 19:15:58. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.