"I was possessed of a burning desire to survive the crisis and to live long enough to be able to experience the turning point, the beginning of a rise," wrote Physics Nobel laureate Max Planck in 1942. After the war, he dedicated himself to preserving the Kaiser Wilhelm Society. Thanks to his international reputation, the structure of the institution was allowed to remain and, in 1948, it was re-established as the Max Planck Society. At that time, it comprised 25 institutes and research centers. In 1949, even before the Federal Republic of Germany was established, the federal states guaranteed the Society sustained institutional financing.
In its first years, its activities were based particularly on two principles: the focus was exclusively on basic research, far removed from any political or business influences, and institute directors were expressly required to meet the highest standards of scientific excellence. Since then, the practice of collaborating with institutions outside of Germany has gradually been cemented. The contact established with the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel in 1959 and the partnership forged with the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1974 mark milestones in this regard.
The sixties were a period of unrivalled progress for the Max Planck Society. New research centers were established for biology and biochemistry. The spectrum of research in the fields of physics and chemistry expanded to include astronomy and solid state physics. Researchers in the humanities and social sciences were seeking answers to burning sociopolitical questions of the day and established new institutes, including several for subfields of the legal sciences and for education research. By 1966, the number of research institutes had grown to 52.
In the seventies and eighties, the Max Planck Society concentrated on innovative, interdisciplinary cutting-edge research in particularly promising fields and established specific programs, creating opportunities for young researchers to launch their international science careers. Then German reunification came, and the unique opportunity to set up 18 new institutes in eastern Germany through to 1998, opening the door to numerous new research areas.
With the start of the 21st century, the Max Planck Society is fortifying its institutional activity abroad: together with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, it established a Partner Institute in Shanghai. And the first Max Planck Institute in North America is now underway, financed by the State of Florida and Palm Beach County, showing that the Max Planck Society is exploring new ways to increase its financial flexibility.