In

functional analysisFunctional analysis is a branch of mathematical analysis, the core of which is formed by the study of vector spaces endowed with some kind of limit-related structure and the linear operators acting upon these spaces and respecting these structures in a suitable sense...

, an

**operator algebra** is an

algebraIn mathematics, an algebra over a field is a vector space equipped with a bilinear vector product. That is to say, it isan algebraic structure consisting of a vector space together with an operation, usually called multiplication, that combines any two vectors to form a third vector; to qualify as...

of continuous linear operators on a

topological vector spaceIn mathematics, a topological vector space is one of the basic structures investigated in functional analysis...

with the multiplication given by the composition of mappings. Although it is usually classified as a branch of functional analysis, it has direct applications to

representation theoryRepresentation theory is a branch of mathematics that studies abstract algebraic structures by representing their elements as linear transformations of vector spaces, and studiesmodules over these abstract algebraic structures...

, differential geometry,

quantum statistical mechanicsQuantum statistical mechanics is the study of statistical ensembles of quantum mechanical systems. A statistical ensemble is described by a density operator S, which is a non-negative, self-adjoint, trace-class operator of trace 1 on the Hilbert space H describing the quantum system. This can be...

and

quantum field theoryQuantum field theory provides a theoretical framework for constructing quantum mechanical models of systems classically parametrized by an infinite number of dynamical degrees of freedom, that is, fields and many-body systems. It is the natural and quantitative language of particle physics and...

.

Such algebras can be used to study arbitrary sets of operators with little algebraic relation

*simultaneously*. From this point of view, operator algebras can be regarded as a generalization of

spectral theoryIn mathematics, spectral theory is an inclusive term for theories extending the eigenvector and eigenvalue theory of a single square matrix to a much broader theory of the structure of operators in a variety of mathematical spaces. It is a result of studies of linear algebra and the solutions of...

of a single operator. In general operator algebras are non-commutative

ringIn mathematics, a ring is an algebraic structure consisting of a set together with two binary operations usually called addition and multiplication, where the set is an abelian group under addition and a semigroup under multiplication such that multiplication distributes over addition...

s.

An operator algebra is typically required to be

closedClosed may refer to:Math* Closure * Closed manifold* Closed orbits* Closed set* Closed differential form* Closed map, a function that is closed.Other* Cloister, a closed walkway* Closed-circuit television...

in a specified operator

topologyTopology is a major area of mathematics concerned with properties that are preserved under continuous deformations of objects, such as deformations that involve stretching, but no tearing or gluing...

inside the algebra of the whole continuous linear operators. In particular, it is a set of operators with both algebraic and topological closure properties. In some disciplines such properties are

axiomizedIn traditional logic, an axiom or postulate is a proposition that is not proven or demonstrated but considered either to be self-evident or to define and delimit the realm of analysis. In other words, an axiom is a logical statement that is assumed to be true...

and algebras with certain topological structure become the subject of the research.

Though algebras of operators are studied in various contexts (for example, algebras of

pseudo-differential operatorIn mathematical analysis a pseudo-differential operator is an extension of the concept of differential operator. Pseudo-differential operators are used extensively in the theory of partial differential equations and quantum field theory....

s acting on spaces of distributions), the term

*operator algebra* is usually used in reference to algebras of

bounded operatorIn functional analysis, a branch of mathematics, a bounded linear operator is a linear transformation L between normed vector spaces X and Y for which the ratio of the norm of L to that of v is bounded by the same number, over all non-zero vectors v in X...

s on a Banach space or, even more specially in reference to algebras of operators on a separable

Hilbert spaceThe mathematical concept of a Hilbert space, named after David Hilbert, generalizes the notion of Euclidean space. It extends the methods of vector algebra and calculus from the two-dimensional Euclidean plane and three-dimensional space to spaces with any finite or infinite number of dimensions...

, endowed with the operator

normIn linear algebra, functional analysis and related areas of mathematics, a norm is a function that assigns a strictly positive length or size to all vectors in a vector space, other than the zero vector...

topology.

In the case of operators on a Hilbert space, the

adjointIn mathematics, the term adjoint applies in several situations. Several of these share a similar formalism: if A is adjoint to B, then there is typically some formula of the type = .Specifically, adjoint may mean:...

map on operators gives a natural involution which provides an additional algebraic structure which can be imposed on the algebra. In this context, the best studied examples are

self-adjointIn mathematics, an element x of a star-algebra is self-adjoint if x^*=x.A collection C of elements of a star-algebra is self-adjoint if it is closed under the involution operation...

operator algebras, meaning that they are closed under taking adjoints. These include C*-algebras and

von Neumann algebraIn mathematics, a von Neumann algebra or W*-algebra is a *-algebra of bounded operators on a Hilbert space that is closed in the weak operator topology and contains the identity operator. They were originally introduced by John von Neumann, motivated by his study of single operators, group...

s. C*-algebras can be easily characterized abstractly by a condition relating the norm, involution and multiplication. Such abstractly defined C*-algebras can be identified to a certain closed subalgebra of the algebra of the continuous linear operators on a suitable Hilbert space. A similar result holds for von Neumann algebras.

Commutative self-adjoint operator algebras can be regarded as the algebra of complex valued continuous functions on a

locally compact spaceIn topology and related branches of mathematics, a topological space is called locally compact if, roughly speaking, each small portion of the space looks like a small portion of a compact space.-Formal definition:...

, or that of measurable functions on a standard measurable space. Thus, general operator algebras are often regarded as a noncommutative generalizations of these algebras, or the structure of the

*base space* on which the functions are defined. This point of view is elaborated as the philosophy of

noncommutative geometryNoncommutative geometry is a branch of mathematics concerned with geometric approach to noncommutative algebras, and with construction of spaces which are locally presented by noncommutative algebras of functions...

, which tries to study various non-classical and/or pathological objects by noncommutative operator algebras.

Examples of operator algebras which are not self-adjoint include:

- nest algebra
In functional analysis, a branch of mathematics, nest algebras are a class of operator algebras that generalise the upper-triangular matrix algebras to a Hilbert space context. They were introduced by John Ringrose in the mid-1960s and have many interesting properties...

s
- many commutative subspace lattice algebras
- many limit algebras