Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Research fellow in mathematical physics

(Photograph:  Erice, Italy)



Welcome to my homepage. I am a postdoctoral research fellow in mathematical physics at Humboldt University.


nichol at aims dot ac dot za

My main interests are division algebras, Clifford algebras, Jordan algebras, and their relation to particle physics.



* Furey, Three generations, two unbroken gauge symmetries, and one eight-dimensional algebra, Phys.Lett.B (2018)

The addendum of this paper outlines a new project I am currently working on together with Beth Romano in Oxford.  The basic idea is to define a universal multiplication rule, known as a multi-action, which splits the Clifford algebra Cl(8,C) into Lie, Jordan, and spinor algebras.  This multi-action induces a Z_2 graded structure, reminiscent of a supersymmetry algebra, to a limited extent.  With this said, one would not anticipate the introduction of the usual superpartners in this framework.

* Furey, SU(3)xSU(2)xU(1) (xU(1)) as a symmetry of division algebraic ladder operators, Eur. Phys. J. C (2018) 

By building from the early work of [3], it is shown how the division algebras R, C, H, and O can combine to yield the basic structure of Georgi and Glashow’s SU(5) grand unified theory.  However, there is one significant difference.  That is, the extra structure provided by the division algebras may enable an escape from SU(5)’s (fatal) prediction of proton decay.  Lately I have been working together with Mia Hughes of Imperial College on a succinct one-generation model.

* Furey, Standard model physics from an algebra?, PhD thesis, 2016

In chapter 3, it is shown that each of the Lorentz representations of the standard model (scalars, left- and right-handed Weyl spinors, Dirac spinors, Majorana spinors, four-vectors, and the field strength tensor) can be identified as special invariant subspaces of the complex quaternions.  This work extends beyond the early 1937 paper of A. Conway [8].  Specifically, the new finding is that each of the standard model's Lorentz representations generalize, in their own way, the notion of a left ideal.

* Furey, Charge quantization from a number operator, Phys.Lett.B, 742 (2015) 195-199

Gunaydin and Gursey’s early model is extended to show not only quarks and anti-quarks using the octonions.  Instead, we find a set of states behaving like the eight quarks and leptons of one full generation.  Here we show that unitary symmetries of octonionic ladder operators lead uniquely to the two unbroken gauge symmetries, su(3)_c and u(1)_em.

We also find a straightforward explanation for the quantization of electric charge. In this model, electric charge is proportional to the number operator for the system. Hence, we see that electric charge is quantized because number operators can only take on integer values.

It should be noted that [4] came quite close to this result in the late 1970s; differences between these two models are described in [2], p.39.

* Furey, Generations: three prints, in colour, JHEP 10 (2014) 046

 Using only the complex octonions (an 8C dimensional algebra) we show how to build the SU(3)c representations corresponding to not one, but three generations of quarks and leptons.  The result is worth noting because natural three-generation models are few and far between.

In each of the three papers above, particles and anti-particles are related simply by the complex conjugate, i to -i.

* DeBenedictis, Furey, Wormhole throats in R^m gravity, Class. Quant. Grav., 2005 






The standard model of particle physics is the result of decades of collaboration, which began roughly in the 1930s, and converged finally on its current state in 1979, [1]. It is a perfected set of rules that tells us how the known fundamental particles behave. In the decades since 1979, the standard model has seen little in the way of alterations, and yet has survived rigorous experimental testing, nearly completely unscathed.

However, despite its long string of victories, the standard model is in some ways hollow, or incomplete. Roughly speaking, we know how to use the model to make predictions, but we do not know why it is the way it is.

To be more explicit, we do not know why the standard model is based on the gauge group SU(3)xSU(2)xU(1)/Z_6, and not some other gauge group. Even given that gauge group, the standard model does not specify why it uses such a long, apparently arbitrary, list of particles to represent that group. The standard model does not explain why its quarks and leptons are organized into three generations. It does not explain why SU(2) weak isospin acts only on left-handed states. Finally, the standard model does not explain the values of its 19 parameters. These questions, and others, have gone unanswered now for nearly 40 years.

The main goal of my work is to try to answer questions like these.


Ultimately, what we are seeking out is an underlying mathematical structure which could explain the behaviour of fundamental particles.  But which mathematical structure should this be?

One possibility is to consider a special set of number systems, which generalize the real numbers that we are already accustomed to using in everyday life. They are known as the normed division algebras over the reals. Curiously, it turns out that there exist only four of these algebras. They are the real numbers, R, the complex numbers, C, the quaternions, H, and the octonions, O. They have dimension 1, 2, 4, and 8, respectively.

The real numbers are used nearly everywhere in physics; the complex numbers are central to quantum theory; the quaternions underlie SL(2,C), and hence are tightly entwined with special relativity. In fact, in chapter 3 of [2], it is shown how invariant subspaces of the complex quaternions can concisely describe each of the Lorentz representations of the standard model.

But what is to be made of the octonions, the fourth and final division algebra? Currently, this algebra is not central to any widely accepted theory in physics. However, with R, C, and H undeniably etched into fundamental physics, it is hard not to wonder: is it really the case that O has been omitted in nature?

This becomes a particularly unavoidable question, once one realizes that the number of quarks and leptons within a generation of standard model fermions adds up to eight. (eg. red, green, and blue up quarks, red, green and blue down quarks, electron, and electron-neutrino)  Eight, of course, is also the dimension of the octonionic algebra.

One of the earliest breakthroughs along these lines belong to Gunaydin and Gursey, [3], who showed the SU(3)_c structure for quarks and anti-quarks within the octonions. Several authors since then have built directly from Gunaydin and Gursey's model, notably, Casalbuoni et al  [4] and Dixon [5]. Much of my own work over the last few years has also made direct use of [3].  Although [4] and [5] were not used in the construction of my model, I would highly recommend that readers explore these earlier texts.


My work to date has aimed to describe standard model physics only in terms of division algebras acting on themselves.  That is, just one copy of R, one copy of C, one copy of H, and one copy of O.  In particular, this means that there is then no liberty to alter the original division algebraic structure by augmenting it to matrices or column vectors. This is a statement worth emphasizing: there are no matrices or column vectors in this formalism. We deal strictly with the division algebras themselves.

Consequently, this means that particles, and the transformations that act on them, both come from the same algebra. Although this model is far from complete, it is anticipated that both bosons and fermions will likewise arise from the same algebra.


[1] P. Ramond, Journeys beyond the standard model, Perseus Books, 1999.

[2] C. Furey, Standard model physics from an algebra?, PhD thesis, 2015.

[3] M. Gunaydin, F. Gursey, Quark structure and the octonions, J. Math. Phys., 1973.

M. Gunaydin, F. Gursey, Quark statistics and octonions, PRD, 1974.

[4] A. Barducci, F. Buccella, R. Casalbuoni, L. Lusanna, and E. Sorace, Quantized grassmann variables and unifed theories, Phys. Letters B, 1977.

[5] G. Dixon, Division algebras: octonions, quaternions, complex numbers and the algebraic design of physics, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994.

[6] C. Furey, Charge quantization from a number operator, Phys.Lett.B, 742 (2015) 195-199

[7] C. Furey, Generations: three prints, in colour, JHEP 10 (2014) 046

[8]  A. Conway, Quaternion treatment of relativistic wave equation, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series A, Mathematical and physical sciences, 162, No 909 (1937).  


Division algebras as a unifying structure for elementary particle physics


Indeed, it is shown in [7] that the complex octonions can generate the SU(3)_c representations corresponding to three generations of the standard model's fermions.  In other words, the octonions can encode the structure of three full generations of quarks and leptons, as seen by the strong force.


©2020 Nichol (Cohl) Furey