The research institutes of the Max Planck Society perform basic research in the interest of the general public in the natural sciences, life sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. In particular, the Max Planck Society takes up new and innovative research areas that German universities are not in a position to accommodate or deal with adequately. These interdisciplinary research areas often do not fit into the university organization, or they require more funds for personnel and equipment than those available at universities. The variety of topics in the natural sciences and the humanities at Max Planck Institutes complement the work done at universities and other research facilities in important research fields. In certain areas, the institutes occupy key positions, while other institutes complement ongoing research. Moreover, some institutes perform service functions for research performed at universities by providing equipment and facilities to a wide range of scientists, such as telescopes, large-scale equipment, specialized libraries, and documentary resources.
The eighty institutes and research facilities of the Max Planck Society are divided into three Sections: the Chemistry, Physics and Technology Section, the Biology and Medicine Section, and the Humanities Section.
Basic research performed in physics, astronomy, chemistry, and mathematics in the Chemistry, Physics & Technology Section is the classic foundation for technological process. Research in these fields attempts to understand more about the composition of matter and the history of the universe and is dominated by the search for a consistent explanation of natural processes and by the question of mankind’s place in the world.
The experimental research methods at these institutes provide information spanning the entire range of spatial dimensions from the size of an elementary particle to the expanse of the universe. The methods also provide information on temporal processes between ultrahigh-velocity elementary particle processes and the age of the universe.
Chemists at the Max Planck Society study the atomic details and the dynamics of important reactions (photosynthesis, catalysis, etc.); examine processes in the upper strata of the atmosphere; and investigate the history of the solar system.
Topics in physics research at the Max Planck Society’s range from atom building blocks to atomic processes on surfaces and the formation and evolution of stars, galaxies, and the universe.
On the one hand, basic research in mathematics at the Max Planck Society focuses on questions arising from developments in mathematics itself. The interactions of various secondary areas and the study of objects with increasing complex structures are expanding. On the other hand, mathematical research reacts to arising problems in adjacent research areas and fields of application. Experimental mathematics, scientific computation, and mathematical modeling are of special significance in this interplay between basic research and challenges presented in application.
Research in chemistry, physics, and technology touches on research in the other two sections, such as important biological question concerning the evolution of self-organizing systems and the cultural and historical studies on the beginnings of metallurgy.
Basic research in the fields of chemistry, physics, and technology also deals with problems of considerable practical importance or those directly connected with technical use and application. These include areas such as solid state physics (research on semiconductors, metals, and iron) and polymer chemistry (research on plastics, fibers, paint, and adhesives).
In plasma physics, for example, processes are being studied which, once thoroughly understood, may one day lead to the production of energy from nuclear fusion. Furthermore, studies conducted by climatologists and atmospheric chemists have far-reaching practical importance. Scientists focus here, among other areas, on the question of whether or not man-made gases can induce climate changes.
All of the institutes in the Biology & Medicine Section share the common task of researching properties specific to living organisms. These include heredity, development, perception, behavior, adaptation strategies to altered living conditions, molecular-biological and biochemical changes, and the nervous systems in humans and animals. Activities at the various institutes range from structural and functional studies on a number of biologically significant molecules and cell organelles to research into unicellular and multicellular systems and the interaction of organisms with each other and their environment.
Because biological processes are universal, much of the research conducted deals with human beings. In addition, some research facilities are devoted to human biology and medicine. Research here concentrates on human molecular-genetic and physiological characteristics as well as on the intellectual performance of humans.The mathematical, physical, and chemical approaches in particular investigations of biological processes link this section with the Chemistry, Physics & Technology Section. Some working groups in the Biology & Medicine Section deal with the more sophisticated achievements of the central nervous system and coincide thematically speaking with research in the Humanities Section. Thus, the institutes in the Biology & Medicine Section continually interact with the other two sections.
Research in this section concentrates on human beings as intellectual being and aims to investigate what they are, how they affect the world, and how they view themselves, others, and the world. Humanities research complements research in the natural sciences because it enables human beings to understand the world and come to terms with it. Humanities research is important because mankind gains scientific knowledge and is ultimately accountable for the manner in which it is applied. Humanities research is also indispensable because man’s scientific contemplations on mankind and the meaning of the world are fundamentally different from the research performed to discover the laws of nature.
The comprehensive approach of the Max Planck Society attempts to cover research in both the traditional areas of the natural sciences and in the humanities. In the Humanities Section, there are institutes that deal with mankind’s intellectual existence and development (psychological research and research on education), mankind’s social existence (research on society), economic and legal systems (study of economic systems and law), the study of cultural history (historical research), demographic developments, and the artistic expression of man’s intellectual nature (research on art history). In this section, there are considerable differences as far as research goals and methods are concerned. Some methods include interpretative and comparative procedures applied in law, history, and art history; qualitative and quantitative methods of measurement applied in the empirical social sciences; and experimental approaches in psychology, which link up with the natural sciences in a narrow sense.
Further information: http://www.mpg.de