There’s a nice geometric way to understand the Heisenberg double of a Hopf algebra, using what one might call its “defining representation(s).” In fact, it’s based on the nice geometric way to understand any semidirect product of groups, so I’ll start with that.

First, consider the Poincaré group, the group of symmetries of Minkowski spacetime. Once we pick an origin of Minkowski spacetime, making it into a vector space , the Poincaré group becomes a semidirect product

and the action on can be written

In fact, demanding that this be a group action is enough to determine the multiplication in the Poincaré group. So, this is one way to think about the meaning of the multiplication law in the semidirect product.

In fact, there’s nothing so special about Minkowski spacetime in this construction. More generally, suppose I’ve got a vector space and a group of symmetries of . Then acts on itself by translations, and we want to form a group that consists of these translations as well as elements of . It should act on by this formula:

Just demanding that this give a group action is enough to determine the multiplication in this group, which we call . I won’t bother writing the formula down, but you can if you like.

In fact, there’s nothing so special about being a *vector space* in this construction. All I really need is an abelian group with a group of symmetries. This gives us a group , whose underlying set is , and whose multiplication is determined by demanding that

is an action.

In fact, there’s nothing so special about being *abelian*. Suppose I’ve got a group with a group of symmetries. This gives us a group , built on the set , and with multiplication determined by demanding that

give an action on . Here denotes the action of on , and is the product of and .

For example, if is a group and is the group of *all* automorphisms of , then the group is called the holomorph of .

What I’m doing here is defining as a *concrete* group: it’s not just some *abstract* group as might be defined in an algebra textbook, but rather a specific group of transformations of something, in this case transformations of . And, if you like Klein Geometry, then whenever you see a concrete group, you start wondering what kind of geometric structure gets preserved by that group.

So: what’s the geometric meaning of the concrete group ? This really involves thinking of in two different ways: as a* group* and as a right *torsor* of itself. The action of preserves the group structure by assumption: it acts by group automorphisms. On the other hand, the action of by left multiplication is by automorphisms of as a right space. Thus, preserves a kind of geometry on that combines the group and torsor structures. We can think of these as a generalization of the “rotations” and “translations” in the Poincaré group.

But I promised to talk about the Heisenberg double of a Hopf algebra.

In fact, there’s nothing so special about *groups* in the above construction. Suppose is a Hopf algebra, or even just an algebra, and there’s some other Hopf algebra that acts on as *algebra* automorphisms. In Hopf algebraists’ lingo, we say is a “ module algebra”. In categorists’ lingo, we say is an algebra in the category of modules.

Besides the Hopf algebra action, also acts on itself by left multiplication. This doesn’t preserve the algebra structure, but it does preserve the *coalgebra* structure: is an module coalgebra.

So, just like in the group case, we can form the semidirect product, sometimes also called a “smash product” in the Hopf algebra setting, , and again the multiplication law in this is completely determined by its action on . We think of this as a “concrete quantum group” acting as two different kinds of “quantum symmetries” on —a “point-fixing” one preserving the algebra structure and a “translational” one preserving the coalgebra structure.

The **Heisenberg double** is a particularly beautiful example of this. Any Hopf algebra is an module algebra, where is the Hopf algebra dual to . The action of on is the “left coregular action” defined as the dual of right multiplication:

for all and all .

One could use different conventions for defining the Heisenberg double, of course, but not as many as you might think. Here’s an amazing fact:

So, while I often see and confused, this is the one case where you don’t need to remember the difference.

But wait a minute—what’s that “equals” sign up there. I can hear my category theorist friends snickering. Surely, they say, I must mean is *isomorphic* to .

But no. I mean *equals*.

I defined as the algebra structure on determined by its action on , its “defining representation.” But every natural construction with Hopf algebras has a dual. I could have instead defined an algebra as the algebra structure on determined by its action on . Namely, acts on itself by *right* multiplication, and acts on by the *right* coregular action. These are just the duals of the two left actions used to define .

That’s really all I wanted to say here. But just in case you want the actual formulas for the Heisenberg double and its defining representations, here they are in Sweedler notation: