Theta representation

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In mathematics, the theta representation is a particular representation of the Heisenberg group of quantum mechanics. It gains its name from the fact that the Jacobi theta function is invariant under the action of a discrete subgroup of the Heisenberg group. The representation was popularized by David Mumford.


The theta representation is a representation of the continuous Heisenberg group H_3(\mathbb{R}) over the field of the real numbers. In this representation, the group elements act on a particular Hilbert space. The construction below proceeds first by defining operators that correspond to the Heisenberg group generators. Next, the Hilbert space on which these act is defined, followed by a demonstration of the isomorphism to the usual representations.

Group generators[edit]

Let f(z) be a holomorphic function, let a and b be real numbers, and let \tau be fixed, but arbitrary complex number in the upper half-plane; that is, so that the imaginary part of \tau is positive. Define the operators Sa and Tb such that they act on holomorphic functions as

(S_a f)(z) = f(z+a)= \exp  (a \partial_z)  ~ f(z)


(T_b f)(z) = \exp (i\pi b^2 \tau +2\pi ibz) f(z+b\tau)= \exp( 2\pi i bz + b \tau \partial_z) ~ f (z) .

It can be seen that each operator generates a one-parameter subgroup:

S_{a_1} (S_{a_2} f) = (S_{a_1} \circ S_{a_2}) f = S_{a_1+a_2} f


T_{b_1} (T_{b_2} f) = (T_{b_1} \circ T_{b_2}) f = T_{b_1+b_2} f.

However, S and T do not commute:

S_a \circ T_b = \exp (2\pi iab) \; T_b \circ S_a.

Thus we see that S and T together with a unitary phase form a nilpotent Lie group, the (continuous real) Heisenberg group, parametrizable as H=U(1)\times\mathbb{R}\times\mathbb{R} where U(1) is the unitary group.

A general group element U_\tau(\lambda,a,b)\in H then acts on a holomorphic function f(z) as

U_\tau(\lambda,a,b)\;f(z)=\lambda (S_a \circ T_b f)(z) = 
\lambda \exp (i\pi b^2 \tau +2\pi ibz) f(z+a+b\tau)

where \lambda \in U(1). U(1) = Z(H) is the center of H, the commutator subgroup [H, H]. The parameter \tau on U_\tau(\lambda,a,b) serves only to remind that every different value of \tau gives rise to a different representation of the action of the group.

Hilbert space[edit]

The action of the group elements U_\tau(\lambda,a,b) is unitary and irreducible on a certain Hilbert space of functions. For a fixed value of τ, define a norm on entire functions of the complex plane as

\Vert f \Vert_\tau ^2 = \int_{\mathbb{C}}
\exp \left( \frac {-2\pi(x^2+ y^2)} {\Im \tau} \right) |f(x+iy)|^2 \  dx \  dy.

Here, \Im \tau is the imaginary part of \tau and the domain of integration is the entire complex plane. Let \mathcal{H}_\tau be the set of entire functions f with finite norm. The subscript \tau is used only to indicate that the space depends on the choice of parameter \tau. This \mathcal{H}_\tau forms a Hilbert space. The action of U_\tau(\lambda,a,b) given above is unitary on \mathcal{H}_\tau, that is, U_\tau(\lambda,a,b) preserves the norm on this space. Finally, the action of U_\tau(\lambda,a,b) on \mathcal{H}_\tau is irreducible.

This norm is closely related to that used to define Segal–Bargmann space.


The above theta representation of the Heisenberg group is isomorphic to the canonical Weyl representation of the Heisenberg group. In particular, this implies that \mathcal{H}_\tau and L2(R) are isomorphic as H-modules. Let

 \operatorname{M}(a,b,c) = \begin{bmatrix} 1 & a & c \\ 0 & 1 & b \\ 0 & 0 & 1 \end{bmatrix}

stand for a general group element of H_3(\mathbb{R}). In the canonical Weyl representation, for every real number h, there is a representation \rho_h acting on L2(R) as

\rho_h(M(a,b,c))\;\psi(x)= \exp (ibx+ihc) \psi(x+ha)

for x\in\mathbb{R} and \psi\in L^2(\mathbb{R}).

Here, h is Planck's constant. Each such representation is unitarily inequivalent. The corresponding theta representation is:

M(a,0,0) \to S_{ah}
M(0,b,0) \to T_{b/2\pi}
M(0,0,c) \to e^{ihc}

Discrete subgroup[edit]

Define the subgroup \Gamma_\tau\subset H_\tau as

\Gamma_\tau = \{ U_\tau(1,a,b) \in H_\tau : a,b \in \mathbb{Z} \}.

The Jacobi theta function is defined as

\vartheta(z; \tau) = \sum_{n=-\infty}^\infty \exp (\pi i n^2 \tau + 2 \pi i n z).

It is an entire function of z that is invariant under \Gamma_\tau. This follows from the properties of the theta function:

\vartheta(z+1; \tau) = \vartheta(z; \tau)


\vartheta(z+a+b\tau;\tau) = \exp(-\pi i b^2 \tau -2 \pi i b z)\vartheta(z;\tau)

when a and b are integers. It can be shown that the Jacobi theta is the unique such function.

See also[edit]