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


Department Theoretical quantum dynamics and quantum electrodynamics


Department Particle and astroparticle physics


Department Quantum dynamics and control


Department Particle physics and high-energy astrophysics


How Gamma Rays Track the Velocity of the Galactic Microquasar SS 433’s Jets and Uncover Highly Efficient Particle Acceleration.


Quantum electrodynamics put to the test


The Max Planck Society honours Daniel Zajfman with the Harnack Medal in recognition of his remarkable contributions to the advancement of science and German-Israeli cooperation

Composite image of the Max Planck researchers who were awarded an ERC Advanced Grant 2023. From left to right: Brenda A. Schulman, MPI of Biochemistry, Sven Sturm, MPI of Nuclear Physics, Alexander Meissner, MPI of Molecular Genetics and Sami K. Solanki, MPI of Solar System Research.

Four scientists can look forward to additional funding in this year's ERC Advanced Grants

View of the sun: This image is a superimposition of two images, taken using the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array in the x-ray range (NuSTAR, green and blue) and the Solar Dynamics Observatory in the ultraviolet range (SDO, reddish). Here, gas is visible with temperatures between 1 and 3 million degrees. In the spectrally fragmented x-rays, the emission lines 3C and 3D of Fe XVII are dominant, as are B and C of Fe XVI.

In future it will be possible to incorporate data from deep space telescopes into the underlying atomic models with a high degree of reliability

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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 moreabundant 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 atthe Max Planck Institute for Physics in Munich and the Max Planck Institute for NuclearPhysics 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, whichtravel 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.

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Better understanding of biological radiation effects

2023 Dorn, Alexander; Pfeifer, Thomas

Quantum Physics

Energetic ionizing radiation can act on biological tissue in more ways than previously assumed. In addition to the direct ionization of biomolecules excess energy stored therein can be transferred to neighboring molecules. This produces several charged molecular fragments and free electrons, which give rise to further reactions in the immediate vicinity. Therefore, the biological impact of this so called intermolecular Coulombic decay is high and it can give rise to irreparable damage for instance in the genetic material (DNA). Such reactions can play an important role in radiation biology.


Liquid Crystal meets ultrafast laser spectroscopy

2022 Cattaneo, Laura

Material Sciences Quantum Physics

Liquid Crystals (LCs) represent a benchmark material to study phenomena which occur across different states of matter, occupying a spot between solids and liquids. They self-assemble, giving rise to new phases of matter in which they show no positional order but long range orientational order. In 2015 we demonstrated that very short optical pulses can excite the weakly bound electron clouds in LCs producing a modulation of their refractive index in the picosecond time scale. This is our starting point for a deeper understanding of the ultrafast dynamics in LCs.


Gamma-Ray Burst afterglows: do TeV photons force a rethink? 

2021 Reville, Brian

Astronomy Astrophysics Plasma Physics

After more than a decade of searching for very-high energy gamma-rays from the afterglows of Gamma-Ray Bursts, detection at these photon energies are at last a reality. Observing these distant sources is challenging due to the reduced transparency of the universe to such energetic photons over cosmological distances. Yet since our first detection in 2018, several more have followed in quick succession. The findings put the standard model under the microscope, revealing potential cracks. These developments ensure a bright future for Gamma-Ray Burst studies at very-high energies. 


Novel approach to understand the Higgs particle's mass

2020 Goertz, Florian

Particle Physics

The discovery of a Higgs-like particle at the CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC) represents one of the biggest findings of the last decades. Notwithstanding, its small mass is in conflict with general physical arguments. Most of the models that can address this issue, by considering the Higgs particle to be composed of more fundamental states, however predict light partner particles of the top quark, which have not been found yet at the LHC. A novel mechanism of symmetry breaking could resolve this tension.


A breath of eternity: The slowest nuclear transition ever observed

2019 Simgen, Hardy; Marrodán Undagoitia, Teresa; Lindner, Manfred

Astrophysics Particle Physics

Is there anything older than our Universe? Surely not, but billions of years appear as a blink of an eye compared to some extremely slow processes. Physicists of the XENON1T collaboration detected such a process. It is the radioactive decay of the xenon-124 atomic nucleus, the slowest decay process ever measured. The half-life of this extremely rare nuclear transformation is for unimaginably long 1.8 × 1022 years. This corresponds to about a trillion times the age of the Universe!

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