Colloids and interfaces consist of very small or thin structures with linear dimensions between nanometers and micrometers. On the one hand, the possible struxctures represent a „world of hidden dimensions“. On the other hand, the dynamics and structures of these small entities determine the behavior of much larger systems such as organisms. A more systematic understanding of colloids and interfaces is a prerequisite for many innovations, such as „smart“ drug delivery systems and biomaterials. Such a deeper understanding can only arise from an interdisciplinary approach that combines chemical synthesis and biomimetic materials science with physical analysis and characterization as well as theoretical modelling. The nano- and microstructures that are investigated at the MPICI are built up from special, even smaller molecules, which are using the principle of “self assembly” to construct ordered structures.
Biomaterials (Professor Peter Fratzl)
Nano- and microstructures are built up in a hierarchical fashion. Especially impressive examples for this „nested” system architecture are found in mineralized tissues such as bone, teeth, and seashells as well as in plants and their cell walls. These systems are studied in the department „Biomaterials” using a variety of experimental characterization methods. One particularly powerful method is microfocussed synchrotron radiation, by which one can determine the structure of micrometer domains with atomic resolution and determine the structure-function relationships of these natural materials. One important aspect is their extraordinary mechanical properties, which can adapt to changing environmental conditions.
Biomolecular Systems (Professor Peter H. Seeberger)
The department „Biomolecular Systems“, which has been newly established in 2008, synthesizes and designs sugar molecules and carbohydrates with well-defined and adjusted architectures. These complex macromolecules are able to specifically recognize and discriminate other macromolecules such as proteins and antibodies. A long-term goal of this research is to develop novel vaccines based on such sugar molecules.
Colloid Chemistry (Professor Markus Antonietti)
In the department „Colloid Chemistry“, a variety of macromolecules is used in order to construct mesoscopic compound systems and hybrid materials. One important aspect of this activity is the molecular encoding of selfassembly and self-organization by specific molecular groups that guide these processes towards a certain target structure. Another recent focus of the department is the transformation of biomass into coal using the process of hydrothermal carbonization. The latter process could provide an important contribution to carbon fixation and, thus, to the reduction of CO2.
Theory & Bio-Systems (Professor Reinhard Lipowsky)
The activities of the four experimental departments are complemented by theoretical investigations in the department „Theory & Bio-Systems“. Current priorities of this department are molecular machines as well as bio-membranes and vesicles that are also studied experimentally using optical microscopy. The long-term goal of these research activities is to elucidate the fundamental principles and generic mechanisms that govern the selforganization of biomimetic and biological systems in the nanoregime.
Max Planck Research Group: Mechano(bio)chemistry (Dr. Kerstin Blank)
Biological systems possess a large number of molecules with mechanical function. These molecules may serve as structural building blocks or sense mechanical signals. The Max Planck Research Group “Mechano(bio)chemistry aims to understand how mechanical forces determine and regulate the structure and function of biological molecules. On the long term, this allows for the development of novel molecular force sensors. Integrated into a synthetic, biomimetic material, these force sensors can confer self-healing and self-reporting properties to the material.
Emeritus Group (Professor Helmuth Möhwald)
Additional nanostructures that arise via self organization are monolayers of organic molecules and multilayers of positively and negatively charged polymers, two priorities of the department „Interfaces“. These nanostructures are suspended at mesoscopic and macroscopic interfaces and, in this way, become accessible to a wide spectrum of imaging and scattering methods. The multilayers of polyelectrolytes can be used to encapsulate a variety of different molecules and nanoparticlecovering applicaitons in chemical engineering and pharmacology.