A short course on tensor categories and topological orders

I will give a short course on “tensor categories and topological orders” from September 19, 2017 to October 19, 2017 at Yau Mathematical Sciences Center, Tsinghua University. There will be three lectures each week except the week of Oct. 2-6.

  • Time: Tuesday, 19:00-21:00, Thursday: 15:20-16:55, 19:00-21:00 . See precise dates in the syllabus below.
  • Room: 近春园西楼三层报告厅 (Lecture Hall). It is possible that we might change the room for Thursday afternoon lecture during certain weeks.

Category theory, a branch of mathematics, is notorious for its abstractness (and uselessness even for many mathematicians). It is surprising that the mathematical theory of tensor category has entered the field of topological phases of matter at its full strength. Almost all ingredients of the representation theory of unitary fusion categories have their physical meanings.

This short course is an introductory course of category theory and its application in the study of 2d topological orders. Among many important results in 2d topological orders, the theory of anyon condensation provides a unique way to demonstrate the power of category theory. More importantly, it serves as an indispensable base for many other important results and further developments. For example, it naturally leads us to a classification of all topological defects of all codimensions, including gapped edges and domain walls, and bulk-edge duality, etc. The main goal of this course is to explain the anyon condensation theory developed in the following paper (some related references are added at the end)

  • Liang Kong, Anyon condensation and tensor categories, Nuclear Physics B 886 (2014) 436-482, [arXiv:1307.8244]

The course is mainly designed for students in condensed matter physics. Since we will also have a few audiences from string theory and mathematical physics community, I will try to connect it to other topics as well, such as topological field theories in mathematics.

The following is a tentative syllabus of this course.

  1. Tuesday, September 19: An overview of the field of 2d topological orders.
    • I will give some historical remarks, and review some basic facts of 2d topological orders. Then I will use some physical intuition to motivate the notion of a unitary modular tensor categories (UMTC). I will state some important results of 2d topological orders in terms of categorical language. This sets the goal that we want to reach at the end of the course.
  2. Thursday, September 21: Toric code model
    • Toric code model is the simplest 2d lattice model that realize a topological order. It is so simple. Yet, it contains almost all the non-trivial phenomena that could occur in much more general topological orders. In this lecture, I will show how to construct topological defects of all codimensions
  3. Thursday, September 21: Basics of category theory
    • introduce the notion of a category, a functor and a natural transformation;
    • examples: Sets, Groups, Vecter spaces, Representations of groups, Algebras, Modules over an algebra, etc.
    • finite semisimple abelian categories and examples.
    • unitary categories:
    • more non-trivial examples:
  4. Tuesday, September 26: Monoidal categories
    • the notion of a monoidal category, a monoidal functor,
    • examples:
    • the notion of unitary fusion category and examples
    • expressing the data in basis
  5. Thursday,  September 28: Unitary modular tensor categories
    • the notion of a braided monoidal category, a braided monoidal functor,
    • examples:
    • the notion of a (unitary) modular tensor category, S-, T-matrices
    • examples: toric code, Ising UMTC, …
    • return to physics
  6. Thursday, September 28: the mathematical theory of anyon condensation, I
    • the new vacuum and condensable algebras in a UMTC.
    • examples
  7. Tuesday, October 10: the mathematical theory of anyon condensation, II
    • deconfined topological excitations
    • confined topological excitations and gapped domain wall
    • modules and local modules with examples
    • the complete results
  8. Thursday, October 12: the mathematical theory of anyon condensation, III
    • Example: revisit toric code
    • open projects.
  9. Thursday, October 12: the mathematical theory of anyon condensation, IV
    • gapped edges and Lagrangian algebras
    • gapped domain walls
    • Witt equivalence and Witt group I
    • More condensation results and open questions
  10. Tuesday, October 17: Modules over a monoidal category and Drinfeld center
    • left/right/bi-module categories, module functors,
    • Morita equivalence
    • Drinfeld center
    • boundary-bulk duality
    • Witt equivalence and Witt group II
    • Mathematical results of Mueger, Kitaev, Etingof-Nikshych-Ostrik, Davydov-Mueger-Nikshych-Ostrik.
  11. Thursday, October 19: Levin-Wen models enriched by defects
    • Briefly sketch the construction and results
    • boundary-bulk duality
  12. Thursday, October 19:  Conclusions and outlooks
    • GSD and factorization homology
    • topological order with symmetries
    • rational conformal field theories
    • gapless edges and enriched monoidal categories

Based on these materials, one can move on to more advanced topics: such as topological orders with symmetries, gapless edges and rational conformal field theories.

The contents are not completely fixed. If you have any questions, comments and suggestions, please feel free to post it here.


  1. 清华大学:姚顺宇,陈一鸣,冒家豪,刘峥,宁上强,林海,周杉,黄施霖
  2. 北京师范大学:寇謖鹏,孔潇,郭翠仙, 杨梦蕾
  3. 理论物理所:苏宁,陈晋
  4. 人民大学:王久才,刘正鑫,
  5. 物理所:
  6. 北大:

Prerequisite: Linear algebra and some basic knowledge of quantum mechanics are needed. A little bit representation theory of finite group will be helpful. A good background in condensed matter physics or quantum field theory is not necessary but certainly helpful. However, if you have too much knowledge in condensed matter physics, it might also prevent you from absorbing the new language easily. 

References (will be added)

1. Alexei Davydov, Michael Mueger, Dmitri Nikshych, Victor Ostrik, The Witt group of non-degenerate braided fusion categories,  Journal für die reine und angewandte Mathematik (Crelles Journal), 2013 (677), pp. 135-177 [arXiv:1009.2117]

2. F.A. Bais, J.K. Slingerland, Condensate induced transitions between topologically ordered phases, Phys. Rev. B 79 (2009) 045316, [arXiv:0808.0627]

3. Maissam Barkeshli, Chao-Ming Jian, Xiao-Liang Qi, Theory of defects in Abelian topological states, Phys. Rev. B 88, 235103 (2013) [arXiv:1305.7203]

4. Pavel Etingof, Dmitri Nikshych, Shlomo Gelaki, Victor Ostrik, Tensor categories, a book, available at  http://www-math.mit.edu/~etingof/egnobookfinal.pdf

5. Yidun Wan, Ling-Yan Hung, Generalized ADE Classification of Gapped Domain Walls, JHEP 1507 (2015) 120 [arXiv:1502.02026]

6. Michael Levin, Protected edge modes without symmetry, Physical Review X 3, 021009 (2013) [arXiv:1301.7355]

7. Michael Levin, Xiao-Gang Wen, String-net condensation: a physical mechanism for topological phases, Phys. Rev. B 71 (2005) 045110. [arXiv:cond-mat/0404617]

8. Alexei Kitaev, Liang Kong,  Models for gapped boundaries and domain walls, Commun. Math. Phys. 313 (2012) 351-373 [arXiv:1104.5047]

9. Liang Kong, Anyon condensation and tensor categories, Nuclear Physics B 886 (2014) 436-482, [arXiv:1307.8244]

10. Liang Kong, Hao Zheng, Gapless edges of 2d topological orders and enriched monoidal categories, [arXiv:1705.01087]

11. Liang Kong, Ingo Runkel, Cardy algebras and sewing constraints, I, Commun. Math. Phys. 292 (2009) 871-912, [arXiv:0807.3356]


About kongliang

I am a mathematician interested in quantum field theory.
This entry was posted in English. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to A short course on tensor categories and topological orders

  1. Kexin says:

    孔老师 这些课可以直播吗 如果可以的话能上午上午上吗 照顾 一下北美的同学

    • kongliang says:


  2. Will the notes or lecture videos be uploaded anywhere. if so, will it be in english? I’m looking for pedagogy in this field which may be useful for me to understand what’s going on recently

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