Contractibility of unitary groups of II-1 factors

Von | Oktober 7, 2020

Question: Let M be a \mathrm{II}_1-factor. Is the unitary group \mathcal{U}(M) contractible when equipped with the strong operator topology?

Background/Motivation: By Kuiper’s theorem, if H is an infinite-dimensional Hilbert space, then the unitary group of the \mathrm{I}_\infty-factor \mathcal{B}(H) is contractible in the norm topology. This was generalized by Breuer ​[1]​ to (certain) \mathrm{I}_\infty and \mathrm{II}_\infty von Neumann algebras, and eventually Brüning-Willgerodt ​[2]​ showed that the unitary group of every properly infinite von Neumann algebra is contractible in the norm topology. This is no longer true for finite von Neumann algebras: The unitary group of a finite matrix algebra M_n(\mathbb{C}) is not contractible. Similarly, the unitary group of a \mathrm{II}_1 factor is not contractible in the norm topology since its fundamental group does not vanish – in fact, it was shown in ​[3]​ that \pi_1(\mathcal{U}(M))\cong\mathbb{R} for every \mathrm{II}_1 factor M.

As noted in the introduction of ​[4]​, the unitary group of every properly infinite von Neumann algebra is also contractible in the strong operator topology. This naturally leads to the above question, which was considered by Popa-Takesaki in ​[4]​. They showed that \mathcal{U}(M) is contractible in the strong operator topology if M is a separable \mathrm{II}_1 factor such that the associated \mathrm{II}_\infty factor M\bar{\otimes} \mathcal{B}(H) admits a trace scaling one-parameter group of automorphisms. This includes all McDuff factors (M is McDuff if M\cong M\bar{\otimes}\mathcal{R} for the hyperfinite \mathrm{II}_\infty factor \mathcal{R}) and all factors that satisfy M\cong M\bar{\otimes} L(\mathbb{F}_\infty), where L(\mathbb{F}_\infty) is the group von Neumann algebra of the free group on infinitely many generators.

  1. [1]
    M. Breuer, On the homotopy type of the group of regular elements of semifinite von Neumann algebras, Math. Ann. (1970) 61–74.
  2. [2]
    J. Brüning, W. Willgerodt, Eine Verallgemeinerung eines Satzes von N. Kuiper, Math. Ann. (1976) 47–58.
  3. [3]
    H. Araki, M.-S.B. Smith, L. Smith, On the homotopical significance of the type of von Neumann algebra factors, Commun.Math. Phys. (1971) 71–88.
  4. [4]
    S. Popa, M. Takesaki, The topological structure of the unitary and automorphism groups of a factor, Commun.Math. Phys. (1993) 93–101.

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