Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization

Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization

Turbulence in clouds, neuronal fireworks in the brain, the physics of individual cells and the flow of water and oil through porous stone – these, and other particularly complex systems, are the focus of the research carried out by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization. Here, “complex” means that many individual systems combine to form a whole, the dynamics of which cannot necessarily be identified through the behaviour of the individual systems. Scientists say that these systems “organise themselves”. This holds true for the interaction of neurons in the brain (for example during learning) as well as for the numerous swirls that combine to form a turbulent cloud. There is reason to hope that a better understanding of the latter will enable a more accurate prediction of the future influence of clouds on global climate.


Am Faßberg 17
37077 Göttingen
Phone: +49 551 5176-0
Fax: +49 551 5176-702

PhD opportunities

This institute has several International Max Planck Research Schools (IMPRS):
IMPRS for Neurosciences
IMPRS for Genome Science

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

Department Fluid Dynamics, Pattern Formation, and Biocomplexity more
Maelstroms in the heart
Heart researchers in Göttingen develop a new, promising imaging technique for cardiac arrhythmias more
Algae with light switch
The adhesion of Chlamydomonas, a unicellular alga, to surfaces is light-dependent more
Quantum particles in a synchronized dance
Quantum systems oscillate in synchronization after a short time just like classical pendulums more
A formula for preventing power outages
The search for power lines that constitute the weaker links of the grid is set to become simpler more
No cable spaghetti in the brain
The brain is not relying on random-wiring, but self-organized neural networks for visual information processing more
<p>The origin of the very first species and the start of Darwinian evolution</p>
A model can explain the origin of the first biological species from which all of today’s life forms descended more
Fractals set the tone

Fractals set the tone

August 27, 2015
Self-similar patterns occur in the rhythm and the variation of loudness in a drummer’s playing more
Music under the microscope
Droplets on a microfluidic chip can be controlled so precisely that they become a musical instrument more
A new method speeds up stabilisation of chaotic systems. The trick: stall control every so often more
Crackling noise during growth
When drops or dust particles coalesce, they often follow the same statistical laws as the noise made by crumpling paper more
The broken symphony of swinging metronomes
An experiment with 30 metronomes reveals chimera states which combine aspects of synchrony and of disorder. Researchers had been looking for such states for ten years. more
Amoebae that keep the beat
Even miniscule changes in their environment can cause the cytoskeleton of the amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum to oscillate more
Film or droplets?

Film or droplets?

January 28, 2013
There is a straightforward explanation as to when a liquid on a rough surface will form a thin film and when it will form droplets more
A glance at the brain's circuit diagram
A new method facilitates the mapping of connections between neurons more
The smallest ice crystals in the world
An ingenious experiment reveals the minimum number of molecules needed before water forms a crystalline structure more

Fighting Turbulence with Eddies

Physics & Astronomy
Turbulence is omnipresent: it plays an important role during planet formation, mixes fuel and air in the cylinder of an engine, but also increases the energy needed for pumps to push oil through pipelines. Björn Hof and his team at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Göttingen investigate the finer points of how it originates and search for tricks to prevent the eddies from forming where they interfere.
New forms and sources of energy need new power lines as well. In the future, a larger number of small, distributed wind and solar installations in place of a smaller number of large power plants are projected to supply Germany with energy. At the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization, the Network Dynamics Group headed by Marc Timme is investigating how the high-voltage grid will respond to this and how it can be optimized.

Bridges That Bind Sand

MPR 4 /2009 Physics & Astronomy
What holds sandcastles together at their core? Researchers are studying such complex structures.
PhD position
Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization, Göttingen March 27, 2018
Postdoctoral Researcher positions
Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization, Göttingen December 21, 2017
Gauss Fellows
Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization, Göttingen December 21, 2017
Group Leader positions
Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization, Göttingen December 21, 2017
Postdoctoral position - Biological Physics
Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization, Göttingen December 05, 2017

Coordinated fluid transport by ciliated surfaces

2017 Westendorf, Christian; Gholami, Azam; Faubel, Regina; Guido, Isabella; Wang, Yong; Bae, Albert; Eichele, Gregor; Bodenschatz, Eberhard
Cell Biology Complex Systems Material Sciences Neurosciences Solid State Research Structural Biology
Active and directed fluid transport are crucial for the survival of eukaryotic organisms. This is often carried out by ciliated tissues e. g., the inner wall of the ventriclar system in the mammalian brain. Using a novel method the complexity of the cilia driven fluid flow in the third ventricle of the brain is revealed. Furthermore, ciliated tissues, which are capable of driving such complex flows are interesting for synthetic biology and applications in technology. Therefore, our working group at the MPI for Dynamics and Self-Organization currently attempts to rebuild such ciliated carpets. more

Fluid invasion structures in porous media

2016 Herminghaus, Stephan
Complex Systems Material Sciences
The complex structures which emerge when a fluid invades a porous medium are of great relevance for many problems in the geosciences as well as in technology, engineering, and everyday life. Nevertheless, about fifty years of intense research have not been able to identify the dominant mechanisms at work. We have recently found that the solution is much simpler than anticipated. The mechanism is well hidden, but so elementary that high-school math is sufficient to come up with quantitative predictions. more

Biodiversity and extinction

2015 Stollmeier, Frank
Complex Systems Evolutionary Biology

Today's biodiversity is the result of a long-lasting process of origination and extinction of species. The history of this process can be explored by fossil databases. A new mathematical model for the network of dependencies between species helps to improve our understanding of the mechanisms of this process. For instance, the model can explain in which circumstances the extinction of a single species may initiate a mass extinction, and why the growth of the biodiversity on land and in the sea has been qualitatively different from each other.


Network Dynamics: Growth, Risk, Design and Control - Mathematical Concepts for “intelligent” self-organizing processes in Nature and Technology

2014 Timme, Marc; Nagler, Jan
Cognitive Science Complex Systems Computer Science Mathematics Neurosciences

The dynamics of networks determines our lives. From biochemical reactions in cells and neural circuits in the brain to networks of social contacts and the power grid − all these are networks of units that generate complex emergent functions through multiple nonlinear feedback. Yet we do not understand them. Researchers are now breaking new ground on the way to a future “science on the dynamics of complex networks”, a unique cross-disciplinary enterprise that cannot be captured by individual traditional subjects such as physics or biology, engineering or social sciences alone.


The intrinsic pace of the actin cytoskeleton

2014 Beta, Carsten
Cell Biology Complex Systems
Actin-driven cell motility is a key process that governs many essential biological phenomena. Recently, it was demonstrated that an intrinsic clock governs actin dynamics and determines the timing of cellular responses to external chemical stimuli. more

The role of noise in spreading processes

2013 Hallatschek, Oskar
Cell Biology Complex Systems Evolutionary Biology Infection Biology
Spreading processes occur in many complex systems. They play an important role, for instance, in the formation of epidemics and the spread of evolutionary novelties. Until recently, most theories of those processes ignored or approximated the role of noise. The example of evolution illustrates, however, that random chance effects should not be neglected. We report a substantial advance in the analysis of these and more complex models. more

Turbulent patterns

2013 Schneider, Tobias M.
Complex Systems Mathematics

The transition to turbulence in a fast moving fluid often starts from a localized turbulent seed that grows until it fills the whole domain. Methods stemming from dynamical systems theory allow first steps towards understanding the observed spreading: Recently constructed special solutions of the underlying equations capture aspects of the characteristic spatiotemporal dynamics. The new solutions are created by known pattern formation mechanisms also believed to underlie the characteristic spots and stripes on leopards and tigers.

During the last years HPC-clusters have become common even beyond the established computing centers. The increasing computing power implies higher technical demands on the infrastructure. In particular the efficient cooling of these systems poses a challenge. more
At low speeds fluid flows are laminar and they turn turbulent as the flowrate is increased. The point at which turbulence first occurs cannot easily be predicted even for flows in very simple geometries. Ever since an investigation by Osborne Reynolds in the 19th century scientists tried to determine this point for the fundamentally most important case: pipe flow. Despite many attempts this problem remained unresolved for over 125 years. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Selforganization and colleagues from the University of Warwick could finally answer this question. more

Autonomous emulsions

2011 Herminghaus, Stephan
Material Sciences
A concept is put forward which should allow for the realization of functional nano-systems by means of self-assembly of soft matter. The choice of soft matter suggests itself from the fact that nature chose that class of materials for the development of life. It is demonstrated that gel-emulsions with a well-defined droplet size, which self-assemble in defined geometric environments in a predictable way, are in fact suitable for the implementation of complex function. more
Life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias are associated with complex, often chaotic, spatial-temporal patterns of electrical excitation. Understanding the underlying dynamical processes opens new perspectives for diagnostics and therapy. more

The brain on the edge of chaos

2010 Levina, Anna; Herrmann, Michael J.; Geisel, Theo
Complex Systems Neurosciences
The general principles that underlie the function and structure of the brain are not yet fully understood. Recent experimental findings put forward one of the theoretical hypothesis, namely that cortical networks are organized such that they keep themselves near the so called critical point. In many different contests it was shown, that the critical state can be beneficial for brain functions, for example by optimizing sensitivity to the external input. We study analytically and numerically how the neuronal network can reach and maintain criticality. more

Göttingen high-pressure turbulence facility

2009 Bodenschatz, Eberhard
Complex Systems
Advances in key economical and societal issues facing the world, like energy generation, climate change, and pollution, are obstructed by the lack of understanding of turbulence. Turbulence occurs whenever fluid viscous forces are small compared to the dominant driving forces of the flow; in practice this includes most macroscopic natural and technological flows. High turbulence levels under controlled conditions are imperative to allow a systematic investigation. For the first time this is becoming possible at the Göttingen Turbulence facility, which is presented here. more

Collective phenomena far from thermal equilibrium

2008 Herminghaus, Stephan
Complex Systems Material Sciences
If many similar systems are coupled to each other, quite unexpected collective phenomena are sometimes observed. These are important in processes of pattern formation and emergence, as found in the universe as well as ubiquitously on earth. In order to understand these mechanisms, we study simple model systems, such as wet granular matter. A number of interesting similarities is found with well-understood equilibrium systems. This suggests a promising path for in-depth investigation of this lively field of research. more
Increasing human mobility is a key cause of the geographic spread of modern epidemics. Bacteria and viruses can be transported across great distances and transmitted to other people. In order to understand and predict the spread of disease, we need to know the statistical rules that govern human travel – in the light of an imminent flu pandemic a knowledge of great importance. more

Pattern Formation in Biophysics

2006 Luther, Stefan; Beta, Carsten; Bodenschatz, Eberhard
Cell Biology
The mechanisms of spatiotemporal pattern formation in biology and medicine is key to the understanding of living matter from cell to organs. The phenomenon of self-organization is observed in the chemotactic motion of cells forming complex behavior and structures. On an organ level, the nonlinear interaction of cardiac cells is evident in the transition from periodic heart rhythm to spatiotemporal chaos associated with sudden cardiac death. We describe our experimental and numerical approach to gain further understanding of these biophysical systems. more

The Spumo-Processor: a New Concept in Micro-Fluidics

2005 Seemann, Ralf; Herminghaus, Stephan
Chemistry Complex Systems Genetics
A novel concept is presented for fluidic microprocessors, which allows to run a huge number of (bio-) chemical reactions in complex sequence on a microchip. It is based upon the interaction of the channel geometry with the foam-like inner topology of dry emulsions more

Hamiltonian ratchets: propulsion by chaos

2004 Dr. Holger Schanz
Complex Systems Material Sciences Quantum Physics
In future mechanical and electronic devices, nanometer scale transport of material, energy and information will rely on novel physical principles. While the role of quantum effects will increase, dissipative processes causing unwanted heating will be reduced as much as possible. We study one particular transport mechanism, the so-called ratchet effect, in the limit of vanishing dissipation. For that purpose an analysis of the complex phase-space structure of Hamiltonian systems is necessary, in which regular and chaotic dynamics typically coexist. more
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