Max Planck Society establishes a new Institute in Hamburg

The Hanseatic City is set to become an international centre for structural research

November 28, 2012

At its meeting last Friday, the Senate of the Max Planck Society passed a resolution to establish the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter. The newly founded MPI emerges from the highly successful MPG Research Group for Structural Dynamics at the University of Hamburg. This resolution is subject to the approval of the Hamburg Parliament. It is anticipated that the City of Hamburg will provide special funding in the amount of 37 million euros for a new building. A decision is due in December 2012. If the Hamburg Parliament grants its approval, this will open the way for the added involvement of the Joint Science Conference (GWK), which must approve the Institute’s inclusion in the supra-regional Federal Länder funding.

“I am really looking forward to seeing this internationally highly-regarded and fruitful joint venture between the German Electron Synchotron (Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron, DESY), the University of Hamburg and the MPG at the Centre for Free-Electron Laser Science (CFEL) deepen even further in the area of next-generation light sources”, said MPG President Peter Gruss. Senator for Science Dorothee Stapelfeldt added: “The Max Planck Society’s resolution points the way for science and research in Hamburg. Hamburg’s Senate has set itself the goal of making Hamburg into an international centre for structural research and of increasing the international profile of the Bahrenfeld Research Campus. The decision by the Max Planck Society confirms that Hamburg already possesses outstanding expertise in this area, which should be enhanced even further by the magnetic effect of the new Institute.”

The new Max Planck Institute will consist of five departments, four of them experimental and one with a theoretic orientation, along with an MPG Research Group. Provisionally, there will be about 120 permanent staff positions at the new Institute.

The department headed by Founding Director Andrea Cavalleri will use laser beams of different wavelengths to study and control the collective properties of solid bodies, and also to monitor the behaviour of atoms and electrons in detail. It was only recently that one of the teams under Andrea Cavalleri succeeded in using terahertz radiation to bring a ceramic cuprate into superconductor state, in which the material loses its electrical resistance. One aim of the Group at the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter will be to elucidate the underlying processes in the material in detail and to use this effect to make materials into superconductors at temperatures that have not previously been reached.

The research in the department headed by the second Founding Director, Dwayne Miller, also involves the precise observation of atomic movements and electronic processes. One focus of his research will be to film chemical reactions with atomic resolution. Proteins, in particular, will be followed while conducting their biochemical tasks, to gain a fundamental understanding of the way they work. To do this, Dwayne Miller’s team has developed the unique electron source REGAE. His team is also working on a new method of using infrared lasers to cut tissues that leaves virtually no scarring. This sort of infrared scalpel – developed from basic research findings – could revolutionise laser surgery in the near future.

The planned research at the new Institute will be first possible thanks to major methodological advances, especially in spectroscopy using ultra-short, brilliant laser pulses. The development of the free-electron lasers, which generate extremely short, high-energy X-ray pulses, is of particular importance in this context. In the future, they could allow the structure of individual protein molecules to be elucidated. Accordingly, the new Institute will also focus its research on structural biology and on perfecting methods which use free-electron lasers. These experimental investigations will be flanked by theoretical studies in all areas, to ensure not only that the observations made in this totally new field of physics are comprehensively explained, but also to provide a profound understanding of how structure and its dynamics determine the function of matter.

Hamburg was the sole candidate site for the new Institute. Firstly, due to the work at CEFL, there is already a long history of close collaboration with the University of Hamburg and DESY in the areas of photonics and structural elucidation. Secondly, the Institute’s special mission requires access to high-performance light sources: in Germany, these are currently available only in Hamburg, in the form of the free-electron lasers FLASH and the European XFEL, the synchrotron radiation source PETRA-III and the relativistic electron gun REGAE, developed and built by Dwayne Miller’s Group.

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