- Max Planck Research Groups
Max Planck Research Groups
How can an organism grow to form a desired structure and pattern? Understanding the morphogenesis of an organism, the collective self-organization of cells that gives rise to a functional structure is at the heart of decoding life. We aim to identify the rules of development by studying the physical principles underlying the formation and adaption of biological organisms. Currently we investigate the mechanics of plant growth and the fluid dynamics enabling the slime mold Physarum polycephalum to adapt its network-like body to its environment.
Even though cardiac fibrillation is one of the most common causes of death in western industrial nations this condition is still not completely understood. Therefore, the members of the Max Planck Research Group develop mathematical models that describe cardiac fibrillation and simulate the illness in experiments. Apart from that the scientists study methods of treatment such as a new pulsed heart defibrillator that requires less energy and is therefore gentler to the patients.
Darwinian evolution is an act of information processing: populations sense and measure the state of their environment and adapt by changing their configurations accordingly. Changes of the environment result in an irreversible out-of-equilibrium adaptive evolution, with a constant flow of information. Our goal is to understand the biological limits of information processing in evolving populations. We study a wide range of biological systems, including rapid evolution of viruses such as HIV, somatic evolution of cellular populations in the adaptive immune system of vertebrates, and adaptive evolution of gene regulation. Although distinct in many of their biological characteristics, we aim to identify common features in their biophysical principles, and ultimately to devise a common framework for a predictive description their evolutionary dynamics.
What are the principles that allow the brain, a complex network of neurons, to process information, to form thoughts and actions? The group of Viola Priesemann tackles this question by combining approaches from information theory and statistical physics with state of the art neurophysiological recordings.
Despite its omnipresence and relevance in nature and engineering, a comprehensive understanding of turbulent flows remains elusive. From the viewpoint of theoretical physics fully developed turbulence constitutes a paradigm of a complex system with a large number of strongly interacting degrees of freedom far from equilibrium. The aim of the research group is to contribute to our understanding of turbulent flows by means of statistical theories, modeling, and numerical simulations. Besides studying fundamental aspects of turbulent flows, we furthermore strive for the transfer of most recent theoretical concepts to applied problems such as atmospheric turbulence and wind energy conversion.
In contrast to most man-made machines, biological organisms are typically built from soft and often fluid-like material. How can such liquid matter be controlled in space and time to fulfill precise functions? To uncover the physical principles for such organization, we analyze theoretical models of biological processes using tools from statistical physics, dynamical system theory, fluid dynamics, and information theory. In particular, we study how phase separation is used to organize the liquid interior of cells and how the airflow during inhalation affects the transport of airborne odorants and thus the sense of smell.
Former Max Planck Research Groups at the MPIDS
Studying the physics and physical chemistry of interfaces in multiphase flows has a practical relevance to understand the behaviour of foams (used for example in food technology...), emulsions (cosmetics, medicine, biotechnology,...) or membranes (material sciences, cell biology...). The focus of our group is the fundamental study of interfaces in liquid systems through the dynamics of droplets, bubbles and emulsions. Using microfluidic tools we produce controlled liquid structures and investigate the transient states in droplet formation, emulsification or coalescence and the influence of external fields on the dynamics of droplet interfaces. We also collaborate with biologists and biochemists on applications of droplet-based microfluidics to create new tools for the miniaturization of bio-chemical assays.
How does evolution work? Although (since Darwin) the principles of biological evolution are known, we are unable to predict her course. Rapid biotechnological advances allow, however, a direct view onto the temporal changes in the genome. The Max Planck Research Group develops theoretical models of evolutionary dynamics at the molecular level that are tested with genetic data or in experiments. Partially related biophysical projects deal with the mechanics of growing tissues.
The Max Planck Research Group concerns itself with the origin of complex dynamical behavior in nonlinear systems. Main focus is the transition in shear flows from laminar to turbulent. Here new methods from nonlinear dynamics are applied to gain a deeper understanding of these processes. Further projects deal with elastic turbulence, the reduction of flow resistance in polymer solutions and phase transitions in granular materials.
What are the organizing principles of biological matter? The Max Planck Research Group is trying to understand the physics behind the morphological and functional attributes of living organisms. Our main focus is on understanding biological distribution systems. We use ideas from physics, mathematics and computer science to decipher the complexity of vascular webs and understand their evolution and function. In other biologically inspired projects, we investigate how structures with intricate geometries fold, and we explore questions related to thin shell elasticity and mechanics.
We are interested in how seemingly simple physical systems create unexpectedly complex patterns and dynamical behaviour. Examples are complex laminar turbulent patterns in shear flows, the formation of intricate coral like solids when crystals grow in solution, patterns in actively forced Navier-Stokes which models biological systems, the role of elasticity in micro-swimmers as well as free-surface flows in microfluidic applications. We study these systems using several aspects of continuum mechanics and transport theory entwinded with dynamical systems methods and large computer simulations.
The members of the Max Planck Research Group deal with the structure and dynamics of complex networks. A main focus of their work is the analysis and the mathematical modelling of the activity in neural networks in the brain. In oder to do this, the scientists develop the necessary mathematical tools. Apart from that, they study applications relevant for computer science, statistical physics, robotics, and artificial neural networks.