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.

Self-healing seed pods
In plants of the Australian genus Banksia, special waxes seal fissures in the fruit wall more
Synthetic carbohydrate wards off pneumococcal infections
Innovative vaccines can provide better protection against some forms of pneumonia and meningitis than currently available products more
Fighting malaria with green chemical synthesis
A new production process could make the active ingredient artemisinin available to millions of malaria patients all over the world more
A stable shell for artificial cells
Scientists are developing cell-like lipid vesicles which can be populated with natural cell proteins more
Stiff fibres spun from slime
Under the influence of shear forces, nanoparticles from the secretion of velvet worms form polymer fibres that can be recycled in water more
Basic scientist, entrepreneur, citizen and family man: what Peter Seeberger, Director at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, manages to cram into one lifetime would take others three. One of his goals is to prevent diseases that afflict particularly people in developing countries – and his weapon of choice is sugar.
During the 20th century, the pharmaceutical industry made crucial strides in advancing drug development. In recent times, however, the sector has seen noticeable cost-related cutbacks in research activity. We urgently need new drugs for the treatment of cancer, dementia and many other diseases. In developing countries, the problem is a matter of life and death. Our author pleads for a radical rethinking of the drug development system, and for the involvement of basic research.
When they hear the word sugar, the first thing most people think of is candy. Some may also think of diabetes. Peter H. Seeberger from the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Golm, in contrast, wants to use sugars to develop more effective drugs and vaccines. He hopes his work will benefit primarily poorer countries.
Patients with osteoporosis stand to gain just as much from artificial bone as those with serious injuries and bone cancer. Peter Fratzl, John Dunlop and Wolfgang Wagermaier are researching the optimum conditions for generating bone tissue at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam-Golm.
Active ingredients for chemotherapy, corrosion protection products or vitamins: packaging substances in tiny containers, transporting them to their intended destination – if need be, even in the human body – and unloading them there would be of interest for many applications. Helmuth Möhwald and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces are developing the methods that will make all this possible.
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Thin molecular layers – multi-talents with many functions

2018 Schneck, Emanuel
Cell Biology Chemistry Immunobiology Infection Biology Material Sciences Medicine Solid State Research Structural Biology
Thin molecular layers such as biological lipid membranes have diverse functions in Nature. But molecular layers play important roles in technology and biotechnology as well, where they improve, for instance, the biocompatibility of surfaces, or serve as lubricants and reduce shear friction. Researchers at the Biomaterials department use advanced x-ray and neutron scattering methods to structurally characterize such layers in order to obtain new insights into their functioning. more

Controlled conditions, controlled chemistry

2017 Gilmore, Kerry*; Pieber, Bartholomäus; Seeberger, Peter H.
Chemistry Immunobiology Infection Biology Material Sciences Medicine

The success of the vast majority of chemical transformations is reliant on the degree of control exhibited over a wide range of variables. Utilizing flow chemistry – where reagents are passed through a set of conditions via thin tubing as opposed to applying conditions to a round bottom flask – has allowed for achieving chemistries and efficiencies previously inaccessible. The modular nature of this technique has facilitated the development of a novel means of chemical synthesis, which targets core functionalities, allowing for multiple derivatives to be produced with a single flow system.


Mechanoreponsive molecules as building blocks for smart materials

2017 Blank, Kerstin G.
Cell Biology Chemistry Material Sciences Medicine Structural Biology

Smart materials are designed to convert an external stimulus into a pre-defined, programmed response. Only a limited number of materials has been developed to date that are able to report on mechanically induced defects by changing their optical properties. Of further interest are materials that are able to self-heal such defects. To obtain these unique properties, mechanoresponsive molecules are required, which respond to the applied force in a well-defined manner. The research goals are to develop such molecules, to understand the mechanisms and to integrate them into novel smart materials.


Nanoparticles interacting with Membranes and Vesicles

2017 Agudo-Canalejo, Jaime; Lipowsky, Reinhard
Complex Systems

Nanoparticles are tiny particles with sizes between a millionth and a thousandth of a millimeter. They include natural viruses, as well as synthetic particles that are increasingly used for medical purposes. In order to enter a cell via endocytosis, a nanoparticle must first bind to the outer cell membrane. The membrane then spreads onto the particle surface until the particle is completely engulfed by the membrane. The key parameters that control this process on nanoscopic length scales have only recently been identified.


Biorefinery and sustainable chemistry: Biomass conversion into building blocks for colloid chemistry

2016 Esposito, Davide; Antonietti, Markus
Chemistry Material Sciences

Today the sustainable generation of fine and platform chemicals from biomass is desirable but still involves many problems. The Biorefinery group of the institute develops efficient separation techniques in order to design new product flows from biomass. New efficient catalytic methodologies are synthesized which withstand the partly extreme conditions while biomass is transferred. Biorefinery and its novel successful strategies for the upgrade of biomass into an array of valuable chemicals is a chance for material science to create a new unconventional generation of polymers and colloids.

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