On a clear night, the starry sky appears calm and peaceful. In reality, however, all hell breaks loose in the heavens: stars absorb matter from other stars, suns explode and black holes greedily devour gas and dust. In short, there are a lot of extreme places in the universe – and they hold particular appeal for researchers. Max Planck astronomers investigate supernovas, study the properties of black holes and conduct research on what causes particles to accelerate.
We live in the Information Age. The amount of data flowing through networks is increasing exponentially. Structuring and using this big data, as experts refer to it, in a meaningful way is becoming more and more challenging. New technologies are needed to manage the torrent. Max Planck researchers, for example, are searching for astronomical objects with special software, as well as seeking unexpected correlations and questions, or looking into the scientific history of huge quantities of data.
"Where did we come from?” is one of the fundamental questions of humankind. Archaeologists, anthropologists and geneticists are finding more and more clues about where the first humans came from, how they spread throughout the world and how they lived.
Robots are the superstars of the future. They are to drive cars, administer care to people in hospitals and homes, save lives after catastrophes, or perform medical tasks as tiny helpers in the body. Max Planck researchers are working hard to ensure that these scenarios become a reality one day. But at first, they have to overcome many challenges.
Language is the most important form of communication. But how has this instrument evolved in the course of evolution? And what is happening in our brains when we are having a conversation with someone? Language proves to be extraordinarily complex. And as our articles show, the topic is not only interesting for classical linguists and computer scientists, but also for psychologists and behavioural scientists.
It’s found in the basic building blocks of matter and in the vast expanses of the universe, in flowers, in butterflies and in our own bodies: symmetry is deeply embedded in nature. Perfect symmetry, however, is rare, and it is often precisely the little differences that offer the key advantage for our existence. To understand this phenomenon, researchers are studying such topics as antimatter, the human brain, or the development of flatworms.
Sleep is a basic need and essential for learning and memory function. Our internal body clocks control the day-night rhythm, influencing the desire for rest – in humans as well as in many animals. Max Planck researchers investigate these organic clocks and other related aspects. For example, they study frigate birds that slumber during flight or the link between sleep disorders and depression.
Magnetic fields are ubiquitous in the literal sense: they exist around planets, traverse our Milky Way and distant galaxies, and are not only present in galactic gas, but can also be found in the suns that evolve from such gas. Magnetars, for example, neutron stars that are only about 20 kilometers in diameter, have the strongest magnetic fields in the universe. Max Planck researchers learn a lot about the nature of the heavenly bodies by studying the cosmic phenomenon.
Light is the elixir of life, inspiration for artists and an indispensable tool in science and technology. Reason enough for UNESCO to proclaim 2015 as the International Year of Light. And a good opportunity to dedicate the focus of our magazine to this topic: discover how Max Planck scientists work with optical tweezers, film the movements of electrons, or analyse the painting by Caravaggio.
Virtually all organisms and living beings have to submit themselves to the natural aging process. But how does this process work? The Max Planck researchers whose work we report investigate fish or a freshwater polyp which have almost attained immortality. And they grapple with the social consequences of age in humans - when it comes to retirement after an active working life.
If polls are to be believed, a quarter of all Germans listen to one hour of music a day. Max Planck researchers carry out extensive research into the subject of music. They look into the origins of musical preferences and their changes, investigate the changing emotions and moods in the musical life of Europe, and experiment with powerful machines which produce sounds.
Tomorrow's electronics are diverse. Above all, they take place on the smallest scale. On the nanometre scale, researchers today are already juggling the most varied ingredients: various organic substances on a molecular level or graphene which shows unusual mechanical or electronic characteristics. In the quantum world, scientists encounter superconducting structures & investigate the basic principles of so-called spintronics.
Our daily life is increasingly dominated by computers - whether we like it or not. This digital network is both a blessing and a curse. The vast amounts of personal data we leave behind can easily get into the wrong hands. Max Planck researchers are now working on developing a "protective cover". They also use sophisticated computer technology to communicate with immobilized patients and work on absolutely reliable security systems, for example, for cars.
Conflicts divide and cause injury. They are omnipresent, in our personal environment and in society alike, at the national level no less than in the international context. At the same time, conflicts are a fertile field of study for researchers from various disciplines, such as social anthropologists or researchers of law or human development. They consider the issue in all of its facets and from different perspectives.
The discovery of light-sensitive channel proteins in the 1970s and 1980s hardly made a splash outside the scientific community. Initially, no one suspected that these ion channels would become a popular tool for neurobiologists. Today, neuroscientists can use tailor-made proteins to switch individual neurons on and off. This does not only make it possible to investigate the function of neurons in the brain, but also offers promising applications in medicine.
“Those in the darkness you don’t see.” Modern cosmology lends thisline from “The Ballad of Mack the Knife” in Brecht’s Threepenny Opera an unexpected currency: the universe lies largely in darkness. This doesn’t refer to the fact that the night sky is black, but rather that dark energy and dark matter – two previously completely unknown substances – account for 96 percent of the total cosmic mass.
The cosmos of the brain is in a constant state of change. Useless connections are cut and new ones are formed to keep the brain flexible and adapt to the constantly changing requirements. Scientists use sophisticated techniques to visualize the brain’s circuit diagrams. Diffusion tensor imaging, for instance, shows the complex patterns of nerve fibers.
Earth is a perfect ecosystem and the best place for life which we know in the universe. The complex interaction between the elements earth, water and air – land masses, oceans, and atmosphere – is finely balanced and functions smoothly. But this fragile interplay can easily go wrong. Researchers are gradually puzzling out the factors throwing our intertwined earth out of balance.
Children have to learn a lot: how to talk, read, and write, but also social skills such as compassion and empathy or the ability to control impulses. Some traits, such as the willingness to help others, appear innate. Anthropologists, educational researchers and neuroscientists are investigating how the social behaviour of children changes over the course of time and which brain areas play a role in this.
If dissimilar couples enter into a union for life, the relationship doesn't necessarily have to fail. On the contrary: such partnerships have decisively shaped the evolution of our planet. Max Planck researchers examine symbioses in animals & plants - discovering fascinating details. Bacteria, for example, produce protective antibiotics for insect larvae or help deep sea muscle in the provision of energy.
Discovering new, renewable energy sources while simultaneously protecting the environment – these are some of the challenging goals that scientists have in their sights on. Max Planck researchers are currently working on methods that would allow us one day to use the vast quantities of CO2 in the atmosphere or wood chips, which are generated as a by-product of the timber industry, as chemical raw materials.
Whether in the water, in the air or on land: life is diverse. This is not only true for the global diversity of species, but also for the genetic variation among species, or the broad variety of different kinds of ecosystems. In the current MaxPlanckResearch magazine, researchers provide insights into this kaleidoscope of variation.
The only constant thing is change - this statement by the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus is even more true for today's society. The fact that our society is getting increasingly older, for example, transforms our lives in every aspect. New findings from happiness research and political sciences will also play a decisive role in the future.
India is currently experiencing an "economic miracle" and one of the most important growth markets worldwide. And it is also developing into a hub for research of the highest international calibre. All this is reason enough for Max Planck scientists to collaborate with Indian colleagues – or to turn the subcontinent itself into the object of their research.
A long life in perfect health – this is what humans have always dreamed of. While modern medicine is far from being able to fulfill this dream, basic research helps us understand our bodies better and to treat diseases in a more targeted manner.
In the future, will we transport computer chips on banknotes, roll up our monitors before putting them into our pockets, and store and access ever larger volumes of data on our PCs in a very fast and easy manner? Max Planck researchers are working on "organic electronics" and nano storage units in order to ensure that such scenarios eventually become part of our everyday lives.
Every fifth German has a migration background - that corresponds to more than 16 million people. Not only politicians and authorities must respond to this demographic trend. Researchers also increasingly turn their attention to the subject of migration. In this issue of our research magazine, Max Planck scientists examine the topic from three different angles.
In order to live as a part of society we must understand others. This requires social awareness. Max Planck researchers investigate how this skill has developed and how we read each other's minds.
Clouds are far more than the objects of romantic musings - they are an important factor in the global climate system. Scientists want to understand the structure as well as chemistry and physics of these floating water reservoirs.
Our energy needs are growing rapidly, while at the same time conventional sources of energy such as fossil fuels endanger the climate. Basic researchers are working on new concepts so that our earth will remain green.
If you want to reach a specific destination, you need detailed information about your environment. To this end, both humans and animals use various strategies. Max Planck researchers have now attempted to unravel the secrets of orientation by means of sophisticated experiments.
Newtonian physics is completely sufficient for everyday use: it explains why a ripe apple hanging on a tree falls off onto someone's head, helps us avoid an accelerating car, and describes the trajectory of a banana shot. But Newton's formulas aren't even half the truth of physics. For very small-scale objects, quantum physics applies, which contradicts our everyday experience with mysterious phenomena - with quantum acceleration, spooky action at a distance, and compass needles that point both north and south at the same time.
Robots with a thirst for knowledge, potatoes a la (genetic) carte, or living cells which produce new materials. Utopian scenarios? Yes and no. Max Planck researchers are currently working on turning these visions into reality.
For long time, smell and taste languished on the shadow side of sensory physiology. Today, these chemical senses are among the most exciting areas within neurobiology - as is attested by the research activities of Max Planck scientists in three new departments.
The solar system offers a vast array of fields for research. Excursions to planets, moons and small bodies such as asteroids and comets teach us a lot about our cosmic neighborhood - and even about the history and evolution of the Earth itself.
Nutrition, health, energy - these are three of the fields in which basic research provides practical applications. Thus, Max-Planck scientists assist in the challenge of mastering climatic change, the scarcity of resources and of demographic change
There is hardly a more creative process than the mechanism of mutation and selection. Max Planck researchers investigate the molecular processes of evolution and why some changes are dominant, and some aren't.
It is not solid, not liquid and not gas, and yet we encounter this matter everywhere - in stars and lightning, in neon lights and television screens. Max Planck researchers study various plasmas both in space and in the laboratory.
It persuades us with purity and dazzles us with beauty, for example, when converting complex contexts into a simple equation. Mathematics also helps to solve practical problems in biology, medicine, or materials science.
China is a fascinating country with many facets but also with many problems resulting from its transformation to an industrial nation. Max Planck researchers are involved in this change; we introduce some of their projects.
What sounds like a buzzword of the 21st century is an integral feature of every human community and has been the engine of all cultural development since time immemorial. 'Mobility' is thus a rich subject for basic research.
The human brain resembles a parallel computer with high-dimensional, non-linear processes. We may never be able to fully unravel and understand its complexities. At any rate it provides scientists with a wealth of material.
Globalisation and technical progress are changing the world. Cybercrime and bioethics have become today's buzzwords. How can we meet these challenges? Researchers from Max Planck Institutes are looking for answers.
Progress in science and technology is based on the precise knowledge and resourceful application of materials. To this end, researchers examine the inner life of plants and minerals just as much as that of organs of the baroque period.