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The Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry (Karl Friedrich Bonhoeffer Institute) in Göttingen is a research institute of the Max Planck Society. Currently, 850 people work at the institute, about half of them are scientists.

The Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry is the only one of the institutes within the Max Planck Society which combines the three classical scientific disciplines – biology, physics and chemistry. Founded in 1971, its initial focus was set on physical and chemical problems. It has since undergone a continuous evolution manifested by an expanding range of core subjects and work areas such as neurobiology, biochemistry and molecular biology.


The history of the Institute goes back to the year 1949. At that time, the Max Planck Society established the Max Planck Institute for Physical Chemistry in Göttingen as follow-up of the former Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry in Berlin. Karl Friedrich Bonhoeffer, who already worked at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, became the founding director of the new institute. He was one of the first researchers who applied physical-chemical methods in biological research and thus combined different disciplines of natural sciences in research.

The Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry was created in 1971 by merging the Max Planck Institutes for Physical Chemistry and for Spectroscopy in Göttingen. This was mainly initiated by Nobel Prize laureate Manfred Eigen, who was at that time director of the Max Planck Institute for Physical Chemistry. His vision of an interdisciplinary approach to biological research was decisive and the creative impulse for the development of the institute. In honour of Karl Friedrich Bonhoeffer, the new institute was named after him.

Although the institute is dedicated to basic research – by virtue of the charter of the Max Planck Society – its policy has been to encourage the transfer of numerous technological innovations to the marketplace. As a consequence, many licensing agreements and start-up firms have arisen from research conducted at the institute, e. g. Lambda Physik (today part of Coherent), DeveloGen (today part of Evotec) and Evotec.


Research at the institute focuses on the fundamental mechanisms that regulate and control life processes: How is genetic information correctly translated into proteins? How do nerve cells communicate with each other? How is cellular logistics controlled? On the organismal level, researchers at the Institute study the circadian rhythms of the vertebrate, or differentiation and development in multicellular organisms.

To obtain even deeper insights into the nanocosmos of living cells, the institute employs ultra-high resolution microscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and tomography, mass spectrometry, optical spectroscopy, or atomistic computer simulations. At the same time the Institute concentrates on developing novel measurement and analysis methods to provide a closer look into the world of molecules.

The Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry currently encompasses 12 departments:

  • Prof. Patrick Cramer - Molecular Biology
  • Prof. Gregor Eichele - Genes and Behavior
  • Prof. Dirk Görlich - Cellular Logistics
  • Prof. Christian Griesinger - NMR-based Structural Biology
  • Prof. Helmut Grubmüller - Theoretical and Computational Biophysics
  • Prof. Peter Gruss - Molecular Cell Biology
  • Prof. Stefan W. Hell - NanoBiophotonics
  • Prof. Herbert Jäckle - Molecular Developmental Biology
  • Prof. Reinhard Jahn - Neurobiology
  • Prof. Reinhard Lührmann - Cellular Biochemistry
  • Prof. Marina Rodnina - Physical Biochemistry
  • Prof. Alec M. Wodtke - Dynamics at Surfaces

The Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry is particularly engaged in the support of junior scientists. 31 independent research groups pursue their own research goals.

After retiring, directors of the Institute can actively continue their research for a couple of years.

  • Prof. Thomas Jovin - Laboratory for Cellular Dynamics
  • Prof. Erwin Neher - Membrane Biophysics
  • Prof. Jürgen Troe - Spectroscopy and Photochemical Kinetics

The Institute has undergone a permanent change in research with the closing of departments after their heads have retired and by continuously establishing new departments. Some of the former directors pursue their research even after their Emeritus Group has expired and can still be contacted at the institute ().

The institute also accommodates the independent Biomedizinische NMR Forschungs GmbH [10] headed by Jens Frahm, which was founded in 1993. The focus of this association is the development and application of spatially resolved NMR techniques for non-invasive studies of the central nervous system in animals and humans. These innovative approaches allow for unique insights into the structure, metabolism and function of the intact living brain. Jens Frahm and his coworkers invented a rapid acquisition technique for magnetic resonance imaging termed FLASH MRI (fast low angle shot) technique which allowed for a 100-fold reduction of the measuring times of cross-sectional and three-dimensional images. The FLASH technique led the ground for many modern MRI applications in diagnostic imaging.

International Max Planck Research Schools

In 2000, two International Max Planck Research Schools (IMPRS) were established together with the Georg August University Göttingen [11] , the German Primate Center [12] and the Max Planck Institute for Experimental Medicine [13] : the IMPRS for Molecular Biology and the IMPRS for Neurosciences (in cooperation with the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization [14] and the European Neuroscience Institute Göttingen [15] ). A third graduate school, the IMPRS for Physics of Biological and Complex Systems, was opened in 2008 (in cooperation with the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization).

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