History of the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research

Founded in 1984, the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz can now look back on more than 30 years of history. A total of eleven directors have decided and continue to decide on the scientific direction of the institute. Its history has been marked by constant progress: on the scientific side, new research areas have been opened up, on the personnel side the number of staff has increased since its foundation, and a total of three construction phases have been completed.

In the 1980s, the plastics processing industry experienced an unprecedented upswing. This increased the industry's need for specialists with expertise in the field of polymer sciences. More than a third of all chemists who had just completed their doctorates therefore found their first job in a company with a closer connection to the production, modification or processing of plastics. However, only about 10% of all university graduates had received training relevant to this subject area.

The scientific community noted the lack of a critical mass of people who could make Germany internationally competitive in this up-and-coming field of research and industry, as well as establish scientific excellence in research. This was further strengthened by the restructuring of the Fritz-Haber Institute in Berlin and the associated discontinuation of research in the field of polymer sciences. In 1979, this situation led the Science Council to convene a "Commission on the Situation of Polymer Research in the Federal Republic of Germany". These and many subsequent meetings finally led to a decision by the Senate of the Max Planck Society on 19.11.1982 to found the "Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research".

The city of Mainz was able to establish itself as the location for the newly founded institute against the cities of Hamburg, Braunschweig, Bayreuth and Darmstadt, as there was the opportunity to construct its own institute building in the vicinity of the campus of the Johannes Gutenberg University. Furthermore, strong research activities already existed at the university in the fields of polymer chemistry and physics. The proximity to large industrial research centers and the associated opportunities for cooperation once again supported the choice of location.

The mission of the new institute was to conduct research to gain fundamental insights into the properties of polymer materials and to test their suitability for the development of advanced new technologies. Prof. Erhard W. Fischer and Prof. Gerhard Wegner were appointed as founding directors, who had already made major contributions to the establishment of the institute. They led the first departments on the topics of chemistry and physics of polymer materials.

In 1984, the new institute finally started research, at that time in temporary laboratories provided by the University of Mainz. At the same time, Prof. Hans W. Spiess was appointed as another director to establish the field of polymer spectroscopy.

The planning and construction of the first two sections of the institute building on the edge of the Johannes Gutenberg University grounds began in 1985. On March 10, 1986, the institute was officially opened.

At the end of 1989 Prof. Klaus Müllen was appointed director, in 1993 Prof. Wolfgang Knoll. The appointment of Prof. Kurt Kremer in 1995 in the field of "Polymer Theory" completed the number of six departments planned when the institute was founded.

Over the years, the institute has undergone major changes, both in terms of personnel and space: In the meantime, the number of employees has risen to over 550, and several construction phases have been added. Today, the six departments of Prof. Paul Blom, Prof. Mischa Bonn, Prof. Hans-Jürgen Butt, Prof. Kurt Kremer, Prof. Katharina Landfester and Prof. Tanja Weil conduct research in collaborative and interdisciplinary projects.

Therefore, a total of six different topic areas were identified, which should align and steer the collaborating research activities of the individual working groups. These topics are:

  • Defect Engineering
  • Multiscale Challenges
  • Proteins at Interfaces
  • Non-equilibrium Phenomena in Soft Matter
  • Nanomaterials in Medicine and
  • Water at Interfaces.
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