Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics

Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics

Many of the details concerning how the world arrived at its current form are still unexplained. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics want to close some of the gaps in our knowledge and thus contribute to an all-encompassing theory for this development. In astroparticle physics they study the structure and the formation history of the universe, which is closely related to the elementary structure of matter. With the H.E.S.S. gamma-ray telescope, for example, they observe the remnants of supernovae. The scientists also investigate the properties of neutrinos, ghost-like elementary particles, and probe the character of dark matter. In the area of quantum dynamics they are interested, for instance, in the interaction of the smallest particles in atomic nuclei, atoms and molecules, which they study in accelerators, storage rings and traps. They also learn more about molecules by controlling simple chemical reactions with intense laser light.


Saupfercheckweg 1
69117 Heidelberg
Phone: +49 6221 516-0

PhD opportunities

This institute has several International Max Planck Research Schools (IMPRS):
IMPRS for Quantum Dynamics in Physics, Chemistry and Biology
IMPRS for Precision Tests of Fundamental Symmetries

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

Department Stored and cooled ions more
Department Particle physics and high-energy astrophysics more
Department Theoretical quantum dynamics and quantum electrodynamics more
Department Particle and astroparticle physics more
Department Quantum dynamics and control more
Sharp x-ray pulses from the atomic nucleus
Using a mechanical trick, scientists have succeeded in narrowing the spectrum of the pulses emitted by x-ray lasers more
Measuring time in a quantum tunnel
In the quantum mechanical tunnelling effect, particles take a few attoseconds to overcome an energy barrier more
One trace of dark matter vanishes
A mysterious X-ray signal most likely originates from sulfur ions which capture electrons more
Radiation damage: The dangerous trail of slow electrons
Details about the mechanism by which electron collisions explode molecules provide a better understanding of how radioactivity damages biological cells more
Extreme energy source at heart of the Milky Way
H.E.S.S telescopes observe cosmic rays accelerated by giant black hole more
Record measurements of matter and antimatter
The most precise experiments ever to compare the mass of the proton and antiproton reveal no difference between the particles more
Astrochemistry: A racetrack for ultra-cold molecules
First experiment in the Cryogenic Storage Ring, which can be used to reproduce the chemical conditions in space in the laboratory more
New gamma ray sources in Large Magellanic Cloud
The H.E.S.S. telescope system discovers three extremely luminous gamma-ray sources in a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way more
Choreography of an electron pair

Choreography of an electron pair

News December 17, 2014
The motion of the two electrons in the helium atom can be imaged and controlled with attosecond-timed laser flashes more
Sights are set on the Vela pulsar
The first data from H.E.S.S. II show the pulsed gamma-ray signal more
At the heart of the antimatter mystery
An extremely accurate measurement of the proton’s magnetic moment could help to explain the surplus of matter in the Universe more
A brake for spinning molecules

A brake for spinning molecules

News March 13, 2014
The precise control of the rotational temperature of molecular ions opens up new possibilities for laboratory-based astrochemistry more
Electron on the scale

Electron on the scale

News February 26, 2014
A measurement of electron mass which is more precise by a factor of 13 could have an impact on the fundamental laws of physics more
<p>Snapshots differentiate molecules from their mirror image</p>
Max Planck researchers are able to reveal the spatial structure of chiral molecules more
The mirror image of ghost particles
The GERDA experiment supplies no new evidence that neutrinos are their own antiparticles more
Black holes, pulsars, remnants of exploded stars – these celestial bodies accelerate particles to enormous energies and emit high-energy gamma radiation. The two observatories known as H.E.S.S. and MAGIC, whose construction was supervised by the Max Planck Institutes for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg and Physics in Munich, make this extreme spectral region accessible.
Neutrinos are particles with seemingly magical powers: the different types are able to transform into one another, and thus have a mass. This discovery earned two scientists the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physics. A quarter of a century ago, these ghostly particles also attracted the attention of researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg for the first time. While conducting their Gallex experiment to hunt for them, they looked deep into the furnace of the Sun.
If cosmologists are correct, there is a form of matter in the universe that is six times more
abundant than the matter we know. It is invisible, which is why it’s called dark matter.
Postulated for the first time 80 years ago, it has yet to be detected directly. Researchers at
the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear
Physics in Heidelberg want to solve this cosmic mystery in the next few years.
Earth is subjected to continuous bombardment. At any point in time, somewhere in the depths of the universe, a star explodes or a black hole ejects gigantic gas clouds from the core of a distant galaxy. These aggressive events are heralded by gamma rays, which
travel straight through the universe and eventually impact on the Earth’s atmosphere. But this is the end of the line – fortunately for all life, as the energy dose would be lethal in the long term. However, the gamma light doesn’t vanish completely into thin air – a lucky break for astronomers, who can then use it to investigate the cosmic messengers. The radiation leaves its traces in a cascade of particles high above the ground. In the process, a large number of elementary particles are created, which generate Cherenkov radiation – blue flashes that last only one billionth of a second and can’t be seen with the naked eye.
In order to record this celestial light, researchers built the four H.E.S.S. telescopes in the Khomas Highland in Namibia several years ago – and they are now converting this quartet into a quintet. H.E.S.S. II is the name of the new dish, which our picture shows bathed in moonlight as it stretches upward like a steel pyramid into the night sky. With a diameter of 28 meters, it roughly corresponds to the area of two tennis courts. And this giant weighs in at no fewer than 580 tons; its camera eye alone weighs three tons. The five scouts of the High Energy Stereoscopic System record the blue flashes with all the tricks of the astronomical observation trade. Securing the evidence in the data then leads to the scene of the crime, as it were: to the source of the radiation. Thus, the astronomers at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, which played an important role in the development and design of H.E.S.S. II as well as coordinating the installation work, also play the role of detectives. Their efforts will soon enable us to better understand the cosmic particle catapults, such as supernovae and black holes.

Physics in the Balance

MPR 4 /2010 Physics & Astronomy
Researchers use clever methods to weigh even tiny atomic nuclei – and in doing so, help to shed light on key questions in physics.

Heaven on Earth

MPR 1 /2010 Physics & Astronomy
Astrophysicists use laboratory equipment to simulate chemical reactions that take place in distant interstellar clouds.
Stars are created from dust and they create dust
– astrophysicists use every instrument and theory
to investigate the many and varied facets of this cycle.
The Large Hadron Collider at CERN near Geneva will be put into operation in late 2007. Nuclear physicists aim to use this facility to reconstruct the Big Bang and penetrate the world of the most minuscule of particles.
Leading Scientist - Theoretical Astrophysics or Astroparticle Physics
Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics, Heidelberg October 10, 2017

Are neutrinos their own antiparticles?

2017 Schwingenheuer, Bernhard; Heisel, Mark
Particle Physics

Despite intensive research since more than 60 years, it is still unknown, whether neutrinos are their own antiparticles or not. This would have considerable implications for particle physics and cosmology. The neutrinoless double beta decay could provide the key information. The GERDA experiment is searching this hitherto still undetected decay for the germanium isotope 76Ge. Presently, GERDA is world leading with the strongest suppression of background events and the best energy resolution, thus providing excellent conditions for a future discovery of the decay.



Novel prospects for control of and with x-rays

2017 Pálffy, Adriana
Quantum Physics

The new x-ray free-electron laser facilities deliver x-ray pulses of unpreceded brilliance, allowing even for an efficient driving of transitions in atomic nuclei. Such control could facilitate in the future the development of new energy storage solutions. Switching roles, nuclei can be used to store and control single x-ray quanta. This mutual control of nuclei and x-ray photons opens new experimental perspectives, with applications that profit from the robustness, penetration depth and especially from the focusability of x-rays.


Observing fast molecular reactions with the free-electron laser FLASH

2016 Schnorr, Kirsten; Pfeifer, Thomas; Moshammer, Robert
Quantum Physics

Using the intense and ultrashort light pulses provided by the free-electron laser FLASH at DESY in Hamburg, it has been possible for the first time to observe fast dynamical processes in individual highly excited molecules as a function of time. By means of the pump-probe technique, where a molecule is excited by a first pulse and subsequently probed by a second delayed pulse, the mechanisms can be uncovered that proceed within a molecule or during its break-up [1]


Particle/antiparticle symmetry confirmed with ultra-high precision

2016 Blaum, Klaus; Ulmer, Stefan (RIKEN)
Particle Physics

By comparing the revolution frequencies of antiprotons and negatively charged hydrogen ions in a strong magnetic field, the to date most precise mass comparison could be performed and thus the most precise direct test of the matter/antimatter symmetry with baryons, particles consisting of each three quarks. The result: the charge-to-mass ratios of protons and antiprotons are identical to the eleventh digit.


The future of gamma-ray astronomy: the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA) project

2015 Hofmann, Werner
Astronomy Astrophysics Particle Physics
Since the first discovery of a cosmic source of very high-energy gamma rays, Cherenkov telescope systems have detected more than 150 cosmic accelerators. This break-through has been possible by using a new detection technique based on the effect that gamma quanta high up in the atmosphere produce particle cascades which emit Cherenkov light. Still open questions brought astrophysicists worldwide to join forces for an instrument with considerably higher performance, the Cherenkov Telescope Array comprising up to 100 telescopes of 3 sizes at 2 sites in the North and in the South, respectively. more

Molecules in Space

2015 Grussie, Florian; O’Connor, Aodh P.; Kreckel, Holger
Astronomy Astrophysics Quantum Physics
The space between the stars is filled with a dilute mixture of atoms and molecules with a small fraction of macroscopic dust. In the denser parts, the interstellar clouds, where stars and planets are being born, modern telescopes have revealed a surprisingly rich molecular chemistry, and even complex organic molecules have been found recently. At the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics a unique laboratory is being developed, aiming to shed light on the formation of interstellar molecules under truly extreme conditions. more

Dark matter

2014 Lindner, Manfred; Marrodán Undagoitia, Teresa; Schwetz-Mangold, Thomas; Simgen, Hardy
Astrophysics Particle Physics

Dark Matter has been postulated for the first time by the Swiss astronomer Fritz Zwicky who analyzed the kinetic energy of galaxies. This allowed him to derive the total mass of the system which turned out to be much larger than the visible mass. Meanwhile, there are a number of further observations, which also point to the existence of Dark Matter that should amount to overall 27% of the Universe, whereas ordinary matter contributes only 5%. This is why presently large efforts are undertaken with experiments like XENON100 or XENON1T in order to directly detect Dark Matter.


Will an antimatter apple fall up?

2014 Cerchiari, Giovanni; Jordan, Elena; Kellerbauer, Alban
Particle Physics
Neutral antimatter atoms afford the unique opportunity to investigate the properties of antimatter with the latest atomic-physics techniques. In this way, different approaches to explaining the imbalance between matter and antimatter in the Universe may be tested. The AEGIS experiment located at the Antiproton Decelerator at CERN is dedicated to the question how antimatter behaves in the gravitational field of the earth. A deviation from normal gravitational acceleration would violate the weak equivalence principle of General Relativity. more

Quantum electrodynamics put on a test bench

2013 Sturm, Sven; Blaum, Klaus; Harman, Zoltán; Keitel, Christoph H.; Köhler, Florian; Wagner, Anke; Zatorski, Jacek
Particle Physics Quantum Physics
The validity of the standard model of physics, even in extreme environments, can be tested by high precision measurements of values that are predicted by theory. For a single 28Si13+ ion, stored for several months in a Penning trap, the magnetic moment of the electron bound to the nucleus was measured to 11 digits precision, confirming the corresponding calculations. This constitutes to date the most stringent test of quantum electrodynamics of bound states. more

Why doesn’t iron glow as predicted?

2013 Bernitt, Sven; Crespo López-Urrutia, José Ramón; Harman, Zoltán
Astrophysics Plasma Physics Quantum Physics
There is a large number of X-ray sources in outer space, like active galactic nuclei or our own sun. In these objects, highly charged iron ions, i.e., iron atoms with most of their electrons stripped off, play a major role. To understand the processes in space, a precise knowledge of the electronic structure of these ions is necessary. Therefore, they are prepared in the laboratory with an electron beam ion trap, and investigated with X-ray photons from synchrotrons or free-electron lasers. By this means, discrepancies between experiments and theoretical predictions are found. more

Surpises at the highest energies - recent progress in high-energy astrophysics

2012 Rieger, Frank; Aharonian, Felix
In the last few years, observations at highest energies have provided important fundamental insight into astrophysical processes in cosmic objects. They represent key steps towards the understanding of these objects. Two selected highlights of gamma-ray astromony are presented. more

Laser acceleration of ions

2012 Harman, Zoltán; Galow, Benjamin J.; Keitel, Christoph H.
Particle Physics Plasma Physics Quantum Physics
Theoretical studies show that high-intensity laser pulses can accelerate ions to high velocities. The energies reached and the energy uncertainty, quality and intensity of the ion beams generated this way may be useful for several applications, including e. g. ion beam cancer therapy. Model calculations also imply that the beam properties required may be achieved with a frequency modulation of the laser pulse. This method of laser acceleration may constitute in future a more economic alternative to conventional particle accelerator systems. more
At the CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC) the LHCb experiment is studying rare decays of B-mesons, i.e., a special kind of heavy elementary particles. It will perform precision measurements in order to find deviations from the Standard Model of particle physics with the goal to understand why there is no antimatter left over from the big bang and what is the nature of dark matter. more

Ultracold few-body systems

2011 Jochim, Selim; Lompe, Thomas; Ottenstein, Timo; Ries, Martin; Serwane, Friedhelm; Simon, Philipp; Wenz, André; Zürn, Gerhard
Quantum Physics
Understanding systems containing few particles is essential for science. Few-body systems at different energy scales exhibit common characteristic properties, such as the shell structure of atoms and nuclei. Using ultracold atoms it is possible to realize generic systems that can be manipulated in a variety of ways. Ensembles consisting of few ultracold atoms can thus contribute to answer open questions of few-body physics. more

A guiding light for electrons

2010 Kremer, Manuel; Fischer, Bettina; Moshammer, Robert; Feuerstein, Bernold; Ullrich, Joachim
Chemistry Quantum Physics
Ultrashort laser pulses enable to steer the simplest chemical reaction, i. e. the breakup of an H2+ molecular ion, into a proton and a neutral H atom such that the electron is preferably emitted with one of the protons in a specific direction. In addition, the application of a reaction microscope allows for a complete determination of the reaction dynamics including the emitted electron. The method is based on a pure quantum effect and marks an important step towards controlled manipulation of chemical reactions. more

Neutrinos: fundamental insights from puzzling particles

2010 Hönes, Gertrud; Lindner, Manfred; Rodejohann, Werner; Schwetz-Mangold, Thomas
Particle Physics
Experiments with solar, atmospheric, reactor and accelerator neutrinos showed that the properties of neutrinos differ from the standard model of particle physics. Neutrinos are able to convert periodically from one type into another. These oscillations demonstrate that neutrinos mix with each other like quarks and must possess mass. Both neutrino properties, mass and mixing, lead to important consequences for nuclear, particle and astrophysics as well as cosmology. Novel experiments aim to measure the neutrino properties more precisely. more

A New Window to the Universe – Gamma Astronomy with H.E.S.S.

2009 van Eldik, Christopher; Hofmann, Werner
In cosmic accelerators particles are accelerated to much higher energies than achievable with man-made accelerators. By observing these objects in very-high-energy gamma rays, the H.E.S.S. telescopes in Namibia make significant contributions towards their identification and to the understanding of their acceleration mechanisms. more

Putting atoms on the scales – precision mass measurements of radionuclides in a Penning trap

2009 Blaum, Klaus; George, Sebastian; Schweikhard, Lutz (Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Universität Greifswald)
Particle Physics Quantum Physics
Similar to a fingerprint atoms can be identified by their mass. It reflects even their “emotional state”, i.e. if and how much they are excited. This is due to the fact that the mass comprises – according to Albert Einstein’s famous equation E = mc2 – all building blocks and their interactions. Precise Penning trap mass measurements of short-lived nuclides, as performed with ISOLTRAP at CERN, therefore provide among others stringent tests of competing nuclear models as well as of the Standard Model of particle physics. Furthermore they extend our knowledge on stellar nucleosynthesis. more

Neutrino Spectroscopy with Borexino: First Direct Measurement of the solar 7Be Neutrino Flux

2008 Schönert, Stefan; Oberauer, Lothar (TU München); Göger-Neff, Marianne (TU München)
The Borexino experiment for the measurement of low-energy neutrinos started data taking on May 15, 2007. After only two months of measuring time, the Borexino collaboration for the first time succeeded to unambiguously identify in real time neutrinos which are released in the electron capture of 7Be in the core of the Sun and thereby to verify independently neutrino oscillations. Besides this, also neutrinos from the Earth’s interior and from far distant nuclear reactors generate signals in Borexino. more

Relativistic Quantum Dynamics in Ultra-Strong Laser Fields

2008 Müller, Carsten; Bauer, Dieter; Hatsagortsyan, Karen Z.; Feuerstein, Bernold; Keitel, Christoph H.
Quantum Physics
Charged particles driven by ultra-strong laser fields can be accelerated up to relativistic energies. The energy can be released in atomic collisions in form of X-rays with laser quality. This opens a way towards future radiation sources and open questions in nuclear and particle physics. The following article reports on recent theoretical studies in this research field. more

Methane, Plants, and Climate

2007 Keppler, Frank; Röckmann, Thomas
Plant Research
Methane is the second most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide. Biogenic methane was previously thought to solely occur in nature when organic material is decomposed by microorganisms and in the absence of oxygen. Recent work of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics has shown that vegetation produces methane under aerobic conditions and releases it to the atmosphere. more

New results of gamma-ray astronomy

2007 Völk, Heinrich J.
Gamma-ray astronomy measures the highest-energy photons from the Universe and thus the most energetic objects and processes which generate them. The H.E.S.S. experiment in Namibia investigates the sky at those energies. Several of the new results and their interpretation are reported here. more

Atmospheric Sulfuric Acid: Influence on Environment and Climate

2006 Arnold, Frank
Chemistry Climate Research
It might be only a coincidence that mankind did not yet perturb the climate system even more than it seems to be the case anyway. The coincidence might be the mostly man-made formation of atmospheric sulfuric acid which forms climate-active aerosol particles. Recent work of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics has led to new insights in the formation of these aerosol particles. The work comprises process studies in the laboratory as well as atmospheric measurements of aerosol precursors (trace gases, ions, and molecular clusters) [1]. more

Dusty Saturn: Planetary Slingshot and Ice Volcanoes

2006 Kempf, Sascha; Srama, Ralf; Grün, Eberhard
The dust detector CDA (Cosmic Dust Analyser) instrument on board the Cassini/Huygens spacecraft started to detect Saturnian dust particles already half a year before the spacecraft started its exploration of the Saturnian system. The sensor registered short collimated streams of nanometre-sized dust particles which were expelled from the inner Saturnian system into the interplanetary space. Based on the dynamical properties of the stream particles, Saturn's A ring was found to be one of the particle sources. This discovery offered the unexpected opportunity to analyze material of Saturn's main ring in situ which is not accessible otherwise. Observations during a close Cassini fly-by of the icy moon Enceladus gave strong indication for ice volcanism. This discovery eventually explained why this moon is effectively replenishing Saturn's vast E-ring with fresh dust particles. more

Highly charged ions at 100 million degrees in the fridge

2005 Crespo López-Urrutia, José Ramón; Ullrich, Joachim
Quantum Physics
A new cryogenic ion trap at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kernphysik in Heidelberg is able to produce and store highly charged ions. These ions are typical for extremely hot plasmas, such as those found in stellar atmospheres and nuclear fusion experimental reactors. The ion trap is mainly used for spectroscopic investigations aiming at testing current atomic structure theory. more


2005 Kirk, John
In early 2004, observations carried out with the H.E.S.S. array of imaging Cerenkov telescopes in Namibia confirmed with startling accuracy a prediction published in 1999 by astrophysicists at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kernphysik of the gamma-ray spectrum of the binary star system PSR B1259-63. Although these observations are a strong indication that the theory is not on the wrong track, they have also posed new puzzles. In combination with observations made in other wavelength ranges, they promise to lead to a deeper understanding of the physics involved in the production of highly relativistic pulsar winds. more
The detection of neutrinos produced in the nuclear fusion reactions in the interior of the sun allows to experimentally test the theory of energy generation in the sun. The first experiments of this kind could essentially only measure 8B neutrinos created in a rare side branch of hydrogen fusion which is totally negligible for energy production in the sun. The results showed a deficit of a factor 2-3 when compared to the expectation from the Standard Solar Model, a fact which has been called the "solar neutrino problem". This raised the question: Are the main branches responsible for energy generation in the sun and the corresponding neutrinos (pp and 7Be) also affected by these problems? Providing the answer to this question has been the main motivation for performing the GALLEX-GNO experiment. The result obtained in more than ten years of operation revealed again a deficit of about 45% when compared to the Standard Solar Model prediction. Since there are no reasonable astrophysical explanations for this finding, there remains only the particle physics solution, according to which neutrinos have a non-zero rest mass and undergo oscillations. This conclusion has recently be definitively confirmed by the results of the SNO solar neutrino detector in Canada. more
The HEIDELBERG-MOSKAU experiment is since ten years the most sensitive nuclear double beta experiment worldwide. It probes the absolute scale of the neutrino mass in the sub-eV region, and gave the first evidence for the neutrinoless decay mode. This is of fundamental importance for elementary particle physics. As a consequence lepton number is not conserved, the neutrino is a Majorana particle, and neutrino masses should be degenerate. Moreover, sharp restrictions are obtained for other fields of physics beyond the standard model, for supersymmetric models, leptoquarks, compositeness, the mass of a right-handed W boson, and a violation of Lorentz invariance and the equivalence principle in the neutrino sector. more
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