Max Planck Institute for Chemistry

Max Planck Institute for Chemistry

In the atmosphere, everything has to do with everything else – and all of it has to do with chemistry. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz therefore study topics such as how ozone or organic substances produced by plants affect the climate. Or the role played by aerosols, tiny airborne particles, in the formation of clouds and rainfall. Generally, the scientists focus on the study of the chemical – and physical – processes in the Earth system, and particularly in the interplay between the atmosphere, oceans, land and biosphere. In so doing, they measure data across the globe, conduct lab tests and construct models of the systems under examination. Another topic of interest is geochemistry: using the chemical characteristics in rocks and sea water, the scientists study the past and present-day processes in the Earth system, for instance, from a climate perspective.


Hahn-Meitner-Weg 1
55128 Mainz
Phone: +49 6131 305-0
Fax: +49 6131 305-1309

PhD opportunities

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

Max Planck Graduate Center

The Max Planck Graduate Center (MPGC), which is managed in cooperation with the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, constitutes a framework for diverse dissertation topics supervised at several of the University’s established faculties. The MPGC thus constitutes a virtual interdisciplinary faculty with its own regulations for the award of doctoral degrees.

A chemical criterion for rating movies

The isoprene concentration in the air is an objective indicator for setting the age rating of films

<p>Air pollution – a neglected cause of death </p>

Particulate matter significantly increases mortality amongst children in low-income countries

The Janus head of the South Asian monsoon

The world's largest weather phenomenon efficiently purifies the air of pollutants, but also distributes them across the globe

Reducing manure and fertilizers decreases atmospheric fine particles

A decrease of agricultural ammonia emissions avoids mortality attributable to air pollution

The myth of the pristine Amazon rainforest

Indigenous inhabitants shaped the rainforest by domesticating tree species in pre-Columbian times


For Lise Meitner, 1938 is something like a turning point in her life. She flees the Nazis and goes to Sweden, where she tries to establish herself as a scientist and finds the solution to a problem that Otto Hahn told her about in a letter. As a result, the former researcher at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry becomes one of the co-discoverers of nuclear fission.

The Middle East and North Africa are currently being rocked by armed conflicts and political crises. But even if these were to be resolved, many people there will likely be forced to leave their homes in the coming decades. Jos Lelieveld, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, and his colleagues are predicting that the region will see dramatic climate change and an increase in air pollution, including airborne desert dust.

In many regions of the world, air pollution is set to worsen in the decades to come. Jos Lelieveld and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz forecast where this will happen. Their studies of atmospheric chemistry also uncover the unexpected effects of some substances.

It is commonly thought that methane forms either chemically, at high pressure or temperature, or as a product of microbial activity. But there are also other ways. Junior scientists working with Frank Keppler from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz discovered unexpected sources of methane: plants, fungi, soil – and even meteorites.

The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry opened its doors in Berlin-Dahlem 100 years ago. Just three years later, it produced its first Nobel laureate: Richard Willstätter had worked out the structure of chlorophyll. However, the research facility, later reborn as the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, became world-famous through the discovery of nuclear fission.

The inside of planets, stellar shells and numerous other uncomfortable spots in space have one thing in common: matter there is under extreme pressure of several million atmospheres. Mikhail Eremets and his colleagues produce such cosmic pressures in their lab at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz – and they do so in surprisingly simple experiments. They are researching which unique transformations gases, but also metals, undergo under these conditions.

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Atmospheric CO2 changes and Quaternary Ice Ages

2018 Martínez-García, Alfredo; Haug, Gerald H.

Chemistry Climate Research Earth Sciences

During the Quaternary, changes in atmospheric CO2 concentrations led to major climate changes such as glacial/interglacial cycles. Our studies indicate that the combination of a decrease in ocean overturning through an increased stratification in the Antarctic zone of the Southern Ocean and increased organic carbon export through iron fertilization in the sub-Antarctic zone of the Southern Ocean can explain much of the G/IG's atmospheric CO2 changes during the last 800,000 years and the entire Quaternary.


Radicals in the dark: NO3 and the nighttime chemistry of the troposphere

2017 Crowley, John; Lelieveld, Jos

Chemistry Climate Research Earth Sciences

Atmospheric chemistry does not stop at sunset but continues via the formation and reactions of the NO3 radical. Whilst this dark chemistry is distinct from that during the day, the day-night systems are strongly coupled. Understanding the present composition of the troposphere and the ability to predict the impact of increasing anthropogenic emissions in the future require detailed understanding of the multifarious gas-phase and heterogeneous processes, both night and day.


Beijing winter haze and its formation mechanism

2016 Cheng, Yafang; Su, Hang; Pöschl, Ulrich

Chemistry Climate Research Earth Sciences

Extreme haze episodes shrouded Beijing during the winter of 2013, causing major environmental and health problems. We show that the severe winter haze was driven by stable synoptic meteorological conditions rather than by an abrupt change of emissions; the fast build-up of PM2.5 in Beijing was mainly controlled by the atmospheric transport; and the production of secondary aerosols is enhanced during the haze periods. This enhancement cannot be explained by the weakened photochemistry suggesting a missing source of PM2.5, which is likely the heterogeneous reaction.


Fire and smoke: observed with satellite eyes

2015 Kaiser, Johannes W.; Heil, Angelika

Chemistry Climate Research Earth Sciences

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry develop methodologies for the estimation of emissions from forest, savannah and other vegetation fires from satellite observations. The EU-funded, open access Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service calculates global daily biomass burning emissions with these methodologies, and their impact on the global atmospheric composition and the European air quality every day. The calculations are also used for the monitoring of global climate change.


Glass sponges – a new paleoclimate archive

2014 Jochum, Klaus Peter; Andreae, Meinrat O.

Chemistry Climate Research Earth Sciences

Scientists of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz have investigated up to 2.70 m long giant spicules of the deep-sea glass sponge Monorhaphis chuni by new microanalytical techniques. They showed that the lifespan of these biogenic silica structures can be up to 13,000 years. Giant spicules therefore offer a unique opportunity to record changes of past oceanic and climatic conditions.

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