Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces

Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces

Tiny apatite crystals in bones, vesicles formed out of membranes, pores in membranes for fuel cells and microcapsules as vehicles for medical drugs – all these are structures that are larger than an atom, yet too small to be seen with the naked eye. These are the kinds of nanostructures and microstructures that scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces examine and create. The structures are often colloids – tiny particles in a different medium – or interfaces between two materials. Many of the structures can be found in nature. The scientists at the Potsdam-based Institute endeavour to understand how they are composed and how they work in order to imitate their behaviour in new materials or in vaccines, for example. Understanding the function of these structures can also help to identify the causes of certain diseases that occur when the folding of membranes or the transport of materials in cells fails to work properly.


Am Mühlenberg 1
14476 Potsdam-Golm
Phone: +49 331 567-7814
Fax: +49 331 567-7875

PhD opportunities

This institute has an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS):

IMPRS on Multiscale Bio-Systems

In addition, there is the possibility of individual doctoral research. Please contact the directors or research group leaders at the Institute.

An online inventory facilitates the search for new materials for batteries or supercapacitors


A cellulose based material could be useful for medical applications such as wound sealant

Black and white image showing a bundle of collagen fibres running horizontally. The very small deposits of nanoparticles can be seen on the collagen fibres.

Incorporating various minerals in collagen puts these composite materials under stress and makes them particularly hard and strong


Ordered structures as in mother-of-pearl or sea urchin spines initially grow in the amorphous components


With smart materials toward more sustainable chemistry

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Functional materials are a matter of survival for plants. Trees use them in bark to protect against hail, rockfall, and even fire. And plants use them to package their seeds in a way that protects them from extreme heat and cold, enabling them to germinate when the weather conditions are favorable. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces analyze how biomaterials get their properties and whether they could replace leather or plastic, for example.

Your skeleton provides support for your body. But this framework is anything but static; mechanical stress causes your bones to constantly renew and remodel themselves. Richard Weinkamer and Wolfgang Wagermaier at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces are investigating precisely how this happens and what structure makes bones stiff and strong. Their findings could also prove relevant for medicine and materials science.

Among his many talents, it took a while for Majd Al-Naji to discover his current passion for chemistry. He is currently searching for solid catalysts for the production of fuels and other chemical products from plant waste or plastic at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, and he can already look back on his extraordinary career.

Peter Seeberger has founded nine start-ups to date. With these companies, the Director of the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam wants to put the results of his basic research into practice. One goal is to introduce sugar-based vaccines against multi-resistant bacteria.

The energy supply of the future has a storage problem. The ability to store surplus power from wind turbines and solar panels for times when it is in short supply relies on powerful batteries and capacitors, which should be made of materials that are as non-toxic and sustainable as possible. This is the focus of work by Clemens Liedel and Martin Oschatz at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam.

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Bark as a raw material

2022 Eder, Michaela; Wenig, Charlett; Hehemeyer-Cürten, Johanna; Fratzl, Peter 

Chemistry Material Sciences

Sustainable raw materials are more in demand than ever – not least to save resources and reduce CO2 emissions. For this reason, we are seeking to utilise biogenic materials that have previously been regarded as waste from the timber industry for high-quality applications. In an interaction between basic scientific research and design, we are investigating how tree bark can be processed to create rigid boards and a flexible, leather-like material.


Emulsions are a central part of our daily lives. Dispersions of oil-in-water or water-in-oil are used in a variety of everyday products such as food, cosmetics and medical articles, paints and detergents. In addition to the investigation of classical single-component droplet systems, we are increasingly focusing on the production and investigation of emulsions consisting of multiphase droplets, so-called complex emulsions. Here we observed a unique chemically stimulable behaviour of such multi-component systems, which enable the development of new and improved applications of emulsions from biomimetics and biosensorics to the construction of autonomously acting, artificially intelligent microreactors.


Carbohydrates under the microscope

2020 Delbianco, Martina

Chemistry Material Sciences

Carbohydrates are abundant biopolymers with applications ranging from paper and textile manufacturing to pharmaceuticals. Still, their full potential remains untapped, because carbohydrates are not well understood at the molecular level. We synthesized well-defined samples for structural analysis. Imaging single carbohydrate molecules revealed that some polymers form helices while others adopt rod-like structures. These compounds assembled into materials with well-defined compositions, enabling applications in nanotechnology.


Liquid-like tissue behavior - a key principle for the formation of structure

2019 Fratzl, Peter; Dunlop, John

Cell Biology Material Sciences Medicine Solid State Research Structural Biology

At the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam we were able to show that growing bone tissue behaves like a viscous liquid on long time scales, thereby taking shapes with minimal surface area. This cell behavior determines the shape of the tissue when it grows on a scaffold. These findings could have far-reaching importance in terms of understanding healing processes and organ development but also for medical applications such as the development of implants.


Malaria and cancer drugs from plant waste, light and air

2018 Seeberger, Peter H.

Cell Biology Immunobiology Infection Biology Medicine Structural Biology

Artemisinin, the basis of the currently most effective malaria drug, is derived from the annual wormwood plant (Artemisia annua). However, the purification is inefficient and expensive, so that half of the drug market is served with ineffective counterfeits. We have developed an environmentally friendly process whereby a waste product produced by the plant is rapidly and efficiently converted to the drug using light-activated oxygen. The very environmentally friendly, patented process is now being developed in the USA by the spin-off ArtemiFlow for industrial application.

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