Artwork at the MPI for Chemistry

In addition to a historical exhibition on important milestones in the history of the institute, there are several works of art in and around the building, which are briefly described here:

Morse Code Art Object

Brigitte Kowanz’s work was selected as part of the “Building Art” (“Kunst am Bau”) competition for the artistic design of the entrance hall as a communicative center. Her installation “WHY HOW WHAT WHEN WHERE” is located on the wall between the entrance hall and the laboratory area, extending across all four floors. 

The starting point of the artwork is the consideration of scientific research as a process. The Max Planck Institute for Chemistry generates huge amounts of data of seemingly overwhelming complexity. Simplified structures are needed to make them usable for humans. With the circle, the artist found a simple form that on the one hand refers to the eternal cycle of recognition and on the other hand evokes associations with the logo of the Max Planck Institute.   

Many groundbreaking scientific discoveries are based on the simple interrogative pronouns “why, how, what, when, and where,” which give the artwork its title. Another design element of the installation is the Morse alphabet, which allows coded texts to be transmitted over long distances using electrical impulses. Similar to the arrangement of molecules in chemical compounds, the building blocks of the Morse alphabet form complex layers that remain surprisingly manageable and comprehensible in their essence.

(Text: Brigitte Kowanz, Dieckmann PR Kulturmanagement Redaktion, München; Quelle Grafik: Brigitte Kowanz/MPIC)


High-voltage cascade 

Die Apparatur diente bis in die 1980er Jahre am Max-Planck-Institut für Chemie als Teilchenbeschleuniger für kernphysikalische Untersuchungen. Sie wurde von 1942 bis 1944 im Röntgenwerk C.H.F. Müller AG in Hamburg für das Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut für Chemie in Berlin gefertigt, konnte dort aber kriegsbedingt nicht mehr aufgestellt werden. Ab 1949 wurde die Anlage von Fritz Straßmann und Arnold Flammersfeld am MPI für Chemie in Mainz als Neutronenquelle aufgebaut. 

The device was used as a particle accelerator for nuclear physics studies at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry until the 1980s. It was manufactured from 1942 to 1944 at the Röntgenwerk C.H.F. Müller AG in Hamburg for the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry in Berlin, but could not be set up there due to the war. From 1949, the facility was set up as a neutron source by Fritz Straßmann and Arnold Flammersfeld at the MPI for Chemistry in Mainz.
The device was initially located in a large hall and consisted of three segments:

  • High-voltage cascade (left), 
  • Particle accelerator with ion tube (right) and
  • Facility with the material to be irradiated. This was housed on the floor below and is no longer preserved.

The high-voltage cascade converted an AC voltage into a DC voltage of up to 1.4 megavolts. The voltage was generated by ten capacitors and rectifiers connected in series and was transferred to the ion tube via a resistor. Light gases such as hydrogen were used as the ion source. Inside the ion tube, the ions were accelerated and bundled before they hit the sample to be irradiated. A spectrometer measured the resulting particles.

In 2011, the remains of the apparatus were restored by Ulrich Schreiber. Today, the particle accelerator serves as a work of art in the outdoor area of the MPI for Chemistry.


The Peaceful Goddess of War

For the inauguration of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in 1956, Institute Director Friedrich Paneth had a plaque made for the entrance of the main building in Mainz. In the middle, it shows the goddess Minerva/Pallas Athene, who has laid down her spear and shield and is holding a stylus and tablet in her hand. Is this a reference to peaceful scientific research?  

Later, plaques were added to the sides with the “main information” about the Institute: the names and dates of inauguration for Berlin and Mainz. 

The Greek goddess Pallas Athene corresponds to the Roman goddess Minerva, who had already served as the emblem of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society. She has remained in the logo of the Max Planck Society to this day. Minerva/Athene was considered the goddess of wisdom, worshiped as the protector of craftsmen, poets and teachers. She was also considered the goddess of tactical warfare and combat.   

The figure of Minerva/Athene is a variation of an early classical necked amphora. It was fired on individual clay plates using the ancient vase-painting technique of the Mainz artist Adam Winter. The sculptor and ceramicist used iron oxides for the color black.  

A genuine Lindenberg at the MPI for Chemistry

A painting with the title Fein(d)staub, (a German play on words meaning particulate matter and destructive pollutant) by Udo Lindenberg, has recently gone on display at the MPI for Chemistry. It was presented to Prof. Dr. Jos Lelieveld as a gift by the Mainzer Herz Foundation. The founder of the foundation and Director of Cardiology 1 of the Mainz University Medical Center, is currently conducting research related to air pollution with Lelieveld (see press release). The artwork was auctioned off back in November 2018 at a ball organized by the foundation and achieved a price of 20,000 Euros. However, the winner donated the artwork back to the foundation. The Hamburg-based rock star has been supporting the Mainzer Herz Foundation with work created specifically for it since 2009. 


Graffiti art on bike shed

Since July 2023, the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry is one artwork richer. And everyone can see it, even from far away, as the outer wall of the bike shed on Hahn-Meitner-Weg had been redesigned by an artists’ collective. The graffiti artists working with Manuel Gerullis were inspired by the research themes of the Institute and some well-known scientists who have worked at the MPI for Chemistry:

  • Paul J. Crutzen: Nobel Prize Winner in Chemistry 1995 for explaining the processes that cause the hole in the ozone layer, including CFCs from aerosol cans, coined the term: Anthropocene = Human Age
  • Otto Hahn (left): Nobel Prize Winner in Chemistry 1945, discovery of atomic fission.
  • Lise Meitner (2nd from left): colleague of Otto Hahn, provided the physical explanation for atomic fission
  • Richard Willstätter (right): Nobel Prize Winner in Chemistry 1915, structure of plant pigments including chlorophyll.

In the center of the artwork is an interpretation of Minerva, the goddess of war, who was also considered the goddess of wisdom. Still today, Minerva is the symbol of the Max Planck Society.
In addition, the images take up the keywords "climate and climate change, climate of the earth's history, air pollution (fine dust), natural and anthropogenic aerosols, health".

“The project was a lot of fun because topics like climate change and air pollution are really interesting to me, and I had artistic freedom in the design of the mural,” the Wiesbaden-based artist explains. He was particularly enthusiastic about the key role of aerosols in many of the research projects, so the spray can on the left and the discernible aerosol particles are a reflection of the research at our Institute as well as an homage to graffiti art in general.



In the entrance hall of the MPI for Chemistry are five bronze busts of important personalities from the history of the institute and the Max Planck Society:
Lise Meitner: date unknown, sculptor by Riggenbach (Switzerland); note in MPG file: "Bust was made during Lise Meitner's lifetime."

  • Otto Hahn: abbreviation on bronze: E.L. or L.E. 92; the abbreviation cannot be further clarified, the number indicates the year 1992.
  • Richard Willstätter: before 1933, re-cast in 1949. artist: Josef Hinterseher, Munich
  • Max Planck: artist: Walther Wolff, 1939.
  • Paul Crutzen: artist: Kai Teichert, 2009



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