Frequent questions

General questions and answers

What is the aim of the institute?
Current research at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry is geared towards an integral understanding of the chemical processes within the earth system, specifically in the atmosphere and  biosphere. Our research covers the various interactions between air, water, soil, life, and climate throughout the course of the earth’s history. This also includes the current geological age, the Anthropocene, which is shaped by human activity.

Who assesses the work done by the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry?
The Institute is accountable for regular self-assessment and external evaluations in order to set and accomplish its goals. The advisory board is an international and independent scientific evaluation commission. They regularly examine and assess the scientific projects, their outcomes, and advise the directors on planning of new thematic foci.

What is earth system research?
Earth system research analyzes the “earth system” in an interdisciplinary way. The earth system is the sum of all physical, chemical and biological processes. It also consists of the interactions that have an impact on the state of the earth and its changes. Earth system research investigates the complex interactions and evaluation of land, oceans, the atmosphere, the biosphere, and people. Research is carried out in the field, the laboratory, or by using models.

Why is climate research dealt with in the Institute of Chemistry and not the Institute of Physics? And what actually is the difference between chemistry and physics?
In some respects, chemistry and physics are closely related. But the difference is that one deals with chemical reactions that cause one or more substances to change, giving rise to new properties (e.g. hydrogen and oxygen join to form water), and the other involves physical processes in which a change of state occurs, but the properties of the substance are retained (e.g. water becomes ice when it is frosty). Our area of research mainly deals with the chemical reactions of different substances, which is why we are part of the Institute of Chemistry.

Are there different kinds of science? Or what exactly is meant by the term "fundamental research"?
There is actually a difference between the areas. In science, we make a distinction between a) "fundamental research", which involves researching natural scientific principles, and b) "applied research", which deals with practical application. While fundamental research seeks to find out how certain circumstances interlink, applied science examines how certain circumstances can be rendered usable for important purposes.

Can I let my own samples be analyzed for pollutants in your laboratories (tap water from the kitchen for example)?
Unfortunately not. Our laboratories and measurement methods are not designed to carry out standardized analyses of tap water, textiles, food etc. Please contact a commercial chemical institute to carry out commision work for you.

How does the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry fund itself?
Like all other Max Planck Institutes and the Max Planck Society, the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry is for the most part funded by the national and regional governments. On the one hand, we have ongoing grants for staff and ongoing costs (the so-called institutional grants), and on the other, we invest in special systems and devices. A small part of our income is from external sources, such as additional payments from the government or EU for individual scientific projects.

What is the Kaiser Wilhelm Society?
The Kaiser Wilhelm Society (KWS) was founded in 1911 by the emperor Wilhelm II. The basic idea behind it was to create an institution around one important researcher to give him full research freedom. Berlin-Dahlem became the home for the KWS. The majority of the start-up capital (in excess of 10 million German Marks) was provided by major industrial companies and banks.
After Adolf von Harnack, who headed the KWS between 1911 and 1930, the world famous natural scientist Max Planck - physicist and Nobel Prize winner - was appointed president (1930 - 1937 and 1945/46). Carl Bosch (1937 - 1940), a chemist and managing director of I.G. Farbenkonzern, and Albert Vögler were the KWS presidents who succeeded him. Many well-known scientists were appointed directors of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society.
The number of scientific prizes awarded to the Society is a testament to the high quality of its research. In fact, KWS researchers won a total of 15 Nobel Prizes in the period between its founding and 1944. In 1945, the KWS was disbanded by the Allies. The Inter-Allied Control Council viewed it as “a dangerous organization, endowed with considerable war potential". The struggle for the Society’s existence ended in Göttingen in February 1948, until it was re-established as the “the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science”.

Sometimes I read about the "Max Planck Institute" and other times the "Max Planck Society" – what actually is the difference?
The Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science (MPG) is one of the world's leading research organizations. It is the umbrella organization for almost 80 Max Planck Institutes (MPI). Every institute focuses on its own area of research. You will find more information about the MPG on the "About the MPG" page.

And what about the "Max Planck Institute for Chemistry" and the "Otto Hahn Institute"?
The reason for this difference is historical. The Max Planck Institute for Chemistry was originally founded as the Kaiser Wilhelm Society in 1912. Otto Hahn (1879 - 1968) was the first Director of the Radiochemistry Department from 1912 to 1948. In 1944, he received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for the discovery of nuclear fission.

After the war, the Kaiser Wilhelm Society was renamed the Max Planck Society (MPG). Otto Hahn was the founding president and held this position between 1948 and 1960. In 1960, he became the honorary president of the Max Planck Society. Our institute is also known as the Otto Hahn Institute in remembrance of him.

Is your research based solely in Mainz?
The headquarters of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry is in Mainz, on the campus of the Johannes Gutenberg University (see How to find us). But our research is not just restricted to the Mainz site. For some projects, we collect measurement data from all over the world and then analyze it. The climate of the Amazon rainforest forms a large part of our research, which is why we also have a field station in the Amazon region of Brazil.

And what about ATTO, HALO und ESRP?
They are abbreviations for our ongoing projects:

ATTO is the Amazonian Tall Tower Observatory, where research is conducted on the atmosphere of the Amazon rainforest on a 300 m high platform. You will find more information on the ATTO project page.

HALO is an ultra-modern research aircraft with a range of 8000 km, flying at an altitude of 15 km that can take measurements in the atmosphere all over the world for the purpose of researching ozone content and air pollutants. More details can be found on the HALO project page.

The Partnership Earth System Research (ESRP) pools research excellence across disciplines to understand how the Earth functions as a complex system and to improve the predictability of the effects of human actions.

Harnack’s Principle
Harnack’s principle, named after the first president of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, Adolf von Harnack, originally comprised two aspects: on the one hand, the central role of a research personality around whom an institute has been built up and, on the other, the complete freedom of research granted to him or her. Today Harnack’s Principle in this form is obsolete: Almost none of the Max Planck Institutes are formed around one single researcher, and more value is placed on interdisciplinarity and cross-border cooperation. Harnack’s Principle is however still applicable when it comes to selecting a research personality: only the best candidates should be equipped with research resources which they may then use freely and on their own initiative.

Why is Minerva the logo of the Max Planck Society?

The Roman Goddess Minerva is worshiped both as the goddess of sciences, wisdom, perseverance and courage and the protector or fine arts. The owl-eyed goddess, another name for Minerva, can see through the darkness, meaning she always knows the best course of action and offers the best counsel.
Like its predecessor before it, the Kaiser Wilhelm Society est. 1926, the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science chose the image of Minerva as its emblem.

Max Planck
Max Planck was one of the most important physicists of the 19th and 20th Centuries. He was born Karl Ernst Ludwig Max Planck on April 23rd, 1858 in Kiel. He obtained a doctorate at the age of 21 and, six years later, became professor in Kiel, then professor ordinarius in Berlin in 1892. His research was focused on heat radiation theory and thermodynamics. In the course of his studies on heat radiation in 1899 he discovered a new natural constant, “Planck's quantum of action” named after him, which he presented to the German Physics Association in Berlin on December 14th, 1900. While Planck had long remained skeptical of Einstein’s light quantum hypothesis, he recognized the significance of the special theory of relativity established in 1905 immediately, the rapid establishment of which in Germany was largely down to him. In 1918 Planck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for his efforts in the development of quantum theory.
Starting in 1912, as one of the four permanent secretaries, Planck steered the destiny of the Prussian Academy of Sciences for more than 25 years; it created the “Max Planck Medal” on the occasion of his 70th birthday, the winner of which was Planck himself. Max Planck died on October 4th, 1947 in Göttingen. In 1948 the Kaiser Wilhelm Society for the Advancement of Science, whose president had been Planck from 1930 to 1937 and 1945/46, was renamed the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science.

Who decides what the MPI for Chemistry will investigate?
The MPIC does not do contract research. As is the case with other Max Planck Institutes, it is the institute directors who decide what research will be carried out; the academic staff is involved in this process. The MPIC is led by a staff of five scientific directors who take turns in the role of manager every three years, but who bear joint responsibility for all projects and personnel decisions.

Who evaluates the work of the MPIC?
The MPI for Chemistry renders account of its goal setting, goal achievement and use of resources by means of regular internal and external evaluation. The advisory board, an international and independent scientific evaluation commission examines and assesses the scientific projects and their outcomes regularly and advises the directors in the planning of new thematic focuses.

How does the MPI for Chemistry document its research results?
The results of the institutes's work are reflected in pieces by its staff at symposia and conferences as well as in scientific publications where they are subject to critical evaluation through peer review.

Questions and answers for students and colleagues

Can I study chemistry at the MPI?
No, the MPI for Chemistry is a non-university research institution. Under certain conditions however, MPI scientists may supervise theses and dissertations as part of specific research projects. More information is available at the Max Planck Graduate School.

Are there opportunities for graduates at the MPI for Chemistry?
Together with our cooperation partners, we offer several opportunities for graduates at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz:

The Paul Crutzen Graduate School (PCGS) at MPI for Chemistry offers a PhD program in atmospheric chemistry and physics, environmental physics and geophysics. But also doctoral students with a background in biology and geosciences participate in our interdisciplinary program. The school provides the PhD students a comprehensive supervision also outside of the own research group and the frame to prepare for the PhD exam in an individually structured program.

The "Max Planck Graduate Center with the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz" offers an international PhD program; as well as four faculties of the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research and the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz are also involved in the program. More information can be found on the program's MPGC website.

What about positions for post-doctorates?
We look forward to hearing from and working with motivated young scientists. We welcome applications at any time. Please send these to the Institute's HR department (e-mail:

Do you only collaborate with the University of Mainz when it comes to graduates, or do you cooperate with other universities too?
We for example hold joint seminars and lectures, such as the Johannes Gutenberg University's Physical Colloquium. Prof. Stephan Borrmann, Director of the Particle Chemistry Department, is also head of the Institute for Physics of the Atmosphere at the University of Mainz.

Does the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry work on an international level with other institutes and scientists too?
Yes, the MPI scientists in Mainz work with colleagues and institutes from all over the world as part of their projects. From Brazil and Finland to Cyprus, there are numerous examples of collaboration, but that's a story for another day.

Go to Editor View