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In mathematics, the Harish-Chandra isomorphism, introduced by Harish-Chandra (1951), is an isomorphism of commutative rings constructed in the theory of Lie algebras. The isomorphism maps the center Z(U(g)) of the universal enveloping algebra U(g) of a reductive Lie algebra g to the elements S(h)W of the symmetric algebra S(h) of a Cartan subalgebra h that are invariant under the Weyl group W.

Fundamental invariants

Let n be the rank of g, which is the dimension of the Cartan subalgebra h. H. S. M. Coxeter observed that S(h)W is a polynomial algebra in n variables (see Chevalley–Shephard–Todd theorem for a more general statement). Therefore, the center of the universal enveloping algebra of a reductive Lie algebra is a polynomial algebra. The degrees of the generators are the degrees of the fundamental invariants given in the following table.

Lie algebra Coxeter number h Dual Coxeter number Degrees of fundamental invariants
R 0 0 1
An n + 1 n + 1 2, 3, 4, ..., n + 1
Bn 2n 2n − 1 2, 4, 6, ..., 2n
Cn 2n n + 1 2, 4, 6, ..., 2n
Dn 2n − 2 2n − 2 n; 2, 4, 6, ..., 2n − 2
E6 12 12 2, 5, 6, 8, 9, 12
E7 18 18 2, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 18
E8 30 30 2, 8, 12, 14, 18, 20, 24, 30
F4 12 9 2, 6, 8, 12
G2 6 4 2, 6

For example, the center of the universal enveloping algebra of G2 is a polynomial algebra on generators of degrees 2 and 6.

If g is the Lie algebra sl(2, R), then the center of the universal enveloping algebra is generated by the Casimir invariant of degree 2, and the ring of invariants of the Weyl group is also generated by an element of degree 2.

Introduction and setting

Let g be a semisimple Lie algebra, h its Cartan subalgebra and λ, μ ∈ h* be two elements of the weight space and assume that a set of positive roots Φ+ have been fixed. Let Vλ, resp. Vμ be highest weight modules with highest weight λ, resp. μ.

Central characters

The g-modules Vλ and Vμ are representations of the universal enveloping algebra U(g) and its center acts on the modules by scalar multiplication (this follows from the fact that the modules are generated by a highest weight vector). So, for v in Vλ and x in Z(U(g)),

\( x\cdot v:=\chi_\lambda(x)v \)

and similarly for Vμ.

The functions \( \chi_\lambda, \,\chi_\mu \) are homomorphims to scalars called central characters.
Statement of Harish-Chandra theorem

For any λ, μ ∈ h*, the characters \( \chi_\lambda=\chi_\mu \) if and only if λ and μ are on the same orbit of the Weyl group of g under the affine action (corresponding to the choice of the positive roots Φ+).

Another closely related formulation is that the Harish-Chandra homomorphism from the centrum of the universal enveloping algebra Z(U(g)) to S(h)W (invariant polynomials over the Cartan subalgebra fixed by the affine action of the Weyl group) is an isomorphism.


The theorem may be used to obtain a simple algebraic proof of Weyl's character formula for finite dimensional representations.

Further, it is a necessary condition for the existence of a nonzero homomorphism of some highest weight moules (a homomorphism of such modules preserves central character). A simple consequence is that for Verma modules or generalized Verma modules Vλ with highest weight λ, there exist only finitely many weights μ such that a nonzero homomorphism VλVμ exists

See also

Translation functor
Universal enveloping algebra
Infinitesimal character


Harish-Chandra (1951), "On some applications of the universal enveloping algebra of a semisimple Lie algebra", Transactions of the American Mathematical Society 70: 28–96, ISSN 0002-9947, JSTOR 1990524, MR 0044515
Humphreys, James E. (2000), Introduction to Lie algebras and representation theory, Birkhäuser, p. 126, ISBN 978-0-387-90053-7
Humphreys, James E. (2008), Representations of semisimple Lie algebras in the BGG category O, AMS, p. 26, ISBN 978-0-8218-4678-0

Knapp, Anthony W.; Vogan, David A. (1995), Cohomological induction and unitary representations, Princeton Mathematical Series, 45, Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0-691-03756-1, MR 1330919
Knapp, Anthony, Lie groups beyond an introduction, Second edition, pages 300–303.

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