The Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science

Founded in 1948

The Kaiser Wilhelm Society was founded on 11 January 1911 and renamed the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science in 1948.

The earlier history of the society can be found under the name of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society at THIS LINK.

The Max Planck Society was formally founded on 26 February 1948. The changeover from the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, however, was not as simple as all that for the two Societies both continued to exist side by side for twelve years with the Kaiser Wilhelm Society only completing its dissolution following its last Annual General Meeting on 21 June 1960. The Max Planck Society quickly gained prestige, particularly when the physicist and Society member Walther Bothe won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1954.

In early 1957 West Germany's leading scientists signed the Göttingen Manifesto to the effect that it would be a danger not only to the Federal Republic but to the peace of Europe if West German forces were armed with nuclear weapons. Five of these scientists were members of the Max Planck Society, namely Otto Hahn, Werner Heisenberg, Max von Laue, Josef Mattauch and Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker.

The statutes of the Max Planck Society were revised in 1964 and at that time the following sentence was added:-
The Society carries on the tradition established by the former Kaiser Wilhelm Society.
The changes in the statutes, however, were not implemented until 1973 [2]:-
It raised the Department Heads to the status of Directors, corresponding to their academic achievements. Structurally, the Max Planck Society therefore obtained a more democratic form, with all Department Directors of an Institute now being equal and regularly taking seats on the Institute's Board of Management. The change thus brought in an administrative correction to the Harnack principle, which is the most important principle of the Society and which stems from the very inception of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society: It provides for the support of especially creative and innovative scientists and their ideas, which may even be diametrically opposed to established research tenets.
Following the fall of the Berlin wall in November 1989, East Germany and West Germany discussed the future of their scientific research structure and the Max Planck Society began establishing institutes in East Germany. The Society had operated from headquarters in Göttingen from its post-war creation, but following the official reunification of Germany in October 1990 they worked on moving their headquarters to Berlin. This came about in 1992, although the administrative headquarters which has been in Munich remained in that city.

There remained uncomfortable questions about the conduct of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society during the Nazi period [2]:-
In 1997, Max Planck Society President Hubert Markl appointed an independent commission of historians to study the history of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society during the National Socialist era. The commission was chaired by historians Reinhard Rürup and Wolfgang Schieder, who had made a name for themselves as experts on anti-Semitism and the history of National Socialism. The independent research project was financed by the Max Planck Society and all documents and archived materials were made available to the historians.
The work of this commission led to the President of the Max Planck Society apologising to victims of medical experiments carried out by the Kaiser Wilhelm Society during the Nazi period. The President, Hubert Markl [2]:-
... emphasised that "the most sincere apology is the disclosure of guilt." He thereby pointed the way for the Max Planck Society to assume responsibility for its past. However, Markl not only offered a scientific perspective, he also found moving words to apologise personally to the survivors of the experiments on twins: "Only the perpetrator can really ask for forgiveness. Still, from the bottom of my heart I ask you, the surviving victims, for forgiveness on behalf of those who, irrespective of their reasons, failed to do so themselves."
Let us end this article by looking at the two Max Planck Institutes closely related to mathematics.

1. Max Planck Institute for Mathematics.

The Max Planck Institute for Mathematics, is one of the Society's around 80 Institutes. This Institute was founded in Bonn in 1980 by Friedrich Hirzebruch in 1980. Until he retired in 1995, Hirzebruch was director of the Institute. It is an Institute for Pure Mathematics whose main research areas are: Algebraic Groups; Arithmetic Geometry; Number Theory; Representation Theory; Algebraic and Complex Geometry; Differential Geometry and Topology; Algebraic Topology; Global Analysis; Non-Commutative Geometry; Dynamical Systems; Mathematical Physics. The Institute's website states [4]:-
The institute has only a small number of permanent staff. Most of the scientists visit the institute for a fixed period of time within our Guest Program. This concept aims at stimulating the discussion and the exchange of ideas within the mathematics community. The research is supported by the library, the administration and the computer group. ... The Guest Program is the key concept distinguishing the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics from other Max Planck Institutes. Within the program mathematicians with a completed Ph.D. can work at the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics for a fixed period of time, ranging from weeks to several months. Young researches at the postdoctoral level can get in contact to established scientists, who enjoy staying at the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics for a sabbatical. The whole concept of the program is about stimulating the communication and the exchange of ideas within the mathematics community. Over the years a few thousand mathematicians have used this unique opportunity. The institute also hosts many so-called activities, consisting of a conference and an attached workshop. Many scientist combine their stay with such an event.
We give details of other activities:

Max Planck Institute for Mathematics preprint series

The Max Planck Institute for Mathematics preprint series was established in 1983 shortly after the institute itself.

Manifold Atlas Project

The mission of the Manifold Atlas is to empower and engage topologists, geometers, historians and philosophers to organize and create knowledge about manifolds and the study of manifolds.

Hirzebruch Collection

The Hirzebruch Collection is a media archive that collects documents, images, videos, and other resources related to the work and life of the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics' founding director Professor Dr Friedrich Hirzebruch (1927-2012). His work largely influenced the development of modern mathematics and through his personal efforts and achievements he contributed in an essential way to the reconstruction of mathematics research in Germany after World War II.

2. Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences

The interaction between mathematics and the sciences forms the central point of research at the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences. The institute was founded in Leipzig on 1 March 1996 and it works closely with the University of Leipzig [5]:-
It is the institute's mission to do research work in the field of pure and applied mathematics and promote the interlinking of ideas between mathematics and the sciences in both directions. Experience in history shows that the fundamental problems of physics, chemistry, biology and other sciences have led to important new developments in mathematics while mathematics has had a profound impact on these fields of knowledge. For instance, Fourier's studies of the thermal conduction equations led to the development of the theory of Fourier series and in general to the creation of harmonic analysis. Beyond this, his practical work as a surveyor inspired Gauss, one of the greatest mathematicians of all times, to develop his theory of surfaces and differential geometry. That, in turn, forms the basis for Einstein's general relativity theory and the standard model in elementary particle physics today. Heisenberg's formulation of quantum mechanics also accelerated the development of functional analysis, especially the spectral theory for operators. Finally, the standard model of elementary particles is formulated in the setting of gauge field theories that are based upon a profound synthesis of physics, geometry (topology) and analysis.
The main fields of research at the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences are: analysis; geometry; mathematical physics; and scientific computing. It is particularly involved in problems involving the theory of non-linear partial differential equations. It specialises in the following topics: Riemannian, Kählerian and algebraic geometry including their interrelation with modern theoretical physics; mathematical models in material sciences (microstructures, micromagnetism, homogenisation, phase transitions, refraction phenomena, interfaces and thin films); continuum mechanics (the theory of elasticity and hydro- and gas dynamics); many-particle systems in statistical physics and neural networks; general relativity theory and quantum field theory; problems of mathematical biology; scientific computing.

Visit the society website.

References (show)

  1. History of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, Max Planck Society.
  2. History of the Max Planck Society, Max Planck Society.
  3. J C O'Flaherty, Max Planck and Adolf Hitler, American Association of University Professors Bulletin 42 (3) (1956), 437-444.
  4. Max Planck Institute for Mathematics.
  5. Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences.

Last Updated September 2018