Wednesday 6 February 2019

Solving two-dimensional conformal field theories

This is the text of my habilitation defense, which took place on December 21st 2018. The members of the jury were Denis Bernard, Matthias Gaberdiel, Jesper Jacobsen, Vyacheslav Rychkov, Véronique Terras, Gérard Watts and Jean-Bernard Zuber.

In this habilitation defense, I gave a subjective overview of some recent progress in solving two-dimensional conformal field theories. I discussed what solving means and which techniques can be used. I insisted that there is much to discover about Virasoro-based CFTs, i.e. CFTs that have no symmetries beyond conformal symmetry. I claimed that we should start with CFTs that exist for generic central charges, because they are simpler than CFTs at rational central charges, and can nevertheless include them as special cases or limits. Finally, I argued that in addition to writing research articles, we should use various other media, in particular Wikipedia. 



Two-dimensional CFTs are defined by the presence of a Virasoro symmetry algebra. This symmetry is sometimes enough for solving CFTs, and even classifying the CFTs that obey some extra conditions. For example, we can classify CFTs whose spaces of states decompose into finitely many irreducible representations of the Virasoro algebra: they are called minimal models. In some cases, Virasoro symmetry is not enough, but the CFT can nevertheless be solved thanks to additional symmetries. In particular, we can have symmetry algebras that contain the Virasoro algebra.
Let me discuss a few CFTs that I find particularly interesting. I will classify them according to their symmetry algebras, and characterize these algebras by the spins of the corresponding chiral fields. In this notation, the Virasoro algebra is \((2)\), as its generators are the modes of the energy-momentum tensor, which has spin \(2\). The sum of the spins of the generators gives you a rough idea of the complexity of an algebra.