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Research

The department traditionally focuses on basic research. Solid-state and cluster physics, biophysics, and theoretical physics are among the department’s current areas of focus. This includes physical surfaces and their structures, the study of biologically important molecules, investigating chemical reactions with fast laser pulses, the application of mathematical models, and development of methods for many-body physics.

There are more than 30 research groups at our Department. 15 research groups are working in experimental physics, nine in theoretical physics, and one in physics education. Furthermore, there are interdisciplinary research groups and large collaborative projects. Some of them were established jointly with the Helmholtz Centre Berlin and/or Max Born Institute. They complement the spectrum of topics studied with nuclear physics, solar energy, and rapid nonlinear processes involving surfaces and the solid state.

Biophysics

The interdisciplinary field of biophysics uses physical concepts and methods to study living matter starting from molecules and transverses the whole structural and functional complexity up to populations. Biophysics covers length scales from atomic dimensions to thousands of kilometers and time scales from femtoseconds to hundreds of years. Modern biophysics is strongly interconnected with adjacent research fields from biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, informatics, mathematics, and medicine.

Biophysics in our department, as one of the major research areas, focusses on the molecular level with the aim of understanding the function of biologically relevant macromolecules. Among the biomacromolecules, proteins are fascinating objects. They are molecular machines on the nanometer scale and perform essential tasks in living systems, e.g. energy conversion, catalysis, signal reception. Understanding protein function requires knowledge of their structure, dynamics and interaction with their environment. The research groups in our Department combine the power of structural biophysics, modern spectroscopic methods, and computational approaches to unravel biomolecular function. They push the experimental and theoretical techniques forward to achieve the spatial and temporal resolution as well as sensitivity necessary for investigating these systems.

Specific research topics within the department include the structure, function, dynamics, and regulation of photoreceptors, channels and transporters, signal transduction mechanisms, conformational switching, electron and proton transfer. The study program in Molecular Biophysics attracts students who are interested in the integration of diverse disciplines towards greater understanding of biological function.

Research group of Robert Bittl
Research group of Ana-Nicoleta Bondar
Research group of Holger Dau
Research group of Joachim Heberle        
Research group of Karsten Heyne
Research group of Roland Netz
Research group of Ramona Schlesinger

Nanophysics and Surface Science

Nanophysics and surface science explore the behavior of systems and materials with atomic dimensions. The examples of systems at this ultimate size limit include large molecules, single sheets of carbon atoms (graphene or carbon nanotubes), epitaxial films grown with atomic precision on metal surfaces, or atomic assemblies created on substrates using scanning probe techniques. The following fundamental questions drive nano- and surface science: Can we understand and harness quantum-mechanical effects that are dominant in devices with atomic dimensions? How to rationally design functional nanomaterials by assembling them with atomic precision? What new emergent properties (i.e. superconductivity, topological phases, phase transitions) arise in complex solid state systems?

Nanotechnology and surface science are interdisciplinary fields strongly driven by potential applications. Among the pertinent questions relevant for applications are the following: How do electronic and optical devices function when shrunk to atomic dimensions? Can we realize fundamentally new approaches to information technologies that are based on alternative degrees of freedom such as spin or valley? How can quantum mechanical entanglement be harnessed for applications in computing?

The research groups within the department try to tackle these questions by focusing on the following three thrusts. Molecule/surfaces interactions: In collaboration with the Chemistry department, we strive to realize a version of molecular electronics that is based on functional molecules chemically linked to solid surfaces. In these structures, we probe and control the transfer of charge, optical excitons, and spin. Magnetic surfaces: We explore approaches towards the vision of “spintronics”, the information technology that uses electron’s spin to carry information. We build nanoscale magnetic structures, manipulate them using electrical currents, fields, or light, as well as study their stability. Two-dimensional materials: Very recently, it became possible to isolate and to study two-dimensional materials, structure only a few atoms in thickness. The most famous such material is graphene, a monolayer of carbon. We explore quantum-mechanical phenomena in two-dimensional materials and their heterostructures via a combination of electrical transport and optical measurements.

Research group Bolotin
Research group Franke
Research group Fumagalli     
Research group Reich
Research group Kuch
Research group Weinelt
Research group Brouwer
Research group von Oppen

Complex Quantum Systems

The physical world that we encounter in our everyday experience exhibits a remarkable degree of complexity and richness of phenomena. It has long been noted that this apparent complexity is not necessarily a consequence of the underlying physical laws being complicated. In sharp contrast, this enormous complexity may arise from very basic local interactions. This is already true in the classical world: Fascinatingly complex features and patterns can emerge in nature from the simplest conceivable rules. This is even more so the case for physical systems with many degrees of freedom in which quantum phenomena become relevant. Quantum systems include the entire microscopic world, such as elementary particles and atoms, but also nanoscale electric conductors, semiconductors, large molecules, or certain materials whose macro-scale properties are determined by micro-scale quantum mechanical interactions. That is to say, this is expected to be true for complex quantum systems.

Our department is involved in a wide range of research activities on complex quantum systems, devoted to research in modern condensed matter physics and quantum information. This field of research includes the study of phenomena such as nanomagnetism, mesoscopic superconductivity and quantum chaos. In the focus of attention are physical systems ranging from naturally occurring ones, such as electronic systems with strong correlations or complex materials, to precisely engineered ones, such as Majorana devices, trapped ions and cold atomic gases, relevant in notions of quantum information. A joint feature is that complex quantum systems have intriguing properties which are in general difficult to predict, despite the simplicity of interactions. This complexity can be made a virtue, however, as such systems have practical applications. One such application is constituted by quantum simulators, devices that have the potential for outperforming even the fastest supercomputers available to date.

Common to a theoretical approach to the study of complex quantum systems is the mindset of putting concepts and ideas into the center of attention. Notions of transport are such concepts. So are notions of entanglement, so correlations that are in a precise sense stronger than classically attainable. In fact, we observe currently an exciting development that ideas of condensed matter physics - the study of materials and natural physical systems - and that of quantum information - the study of highly engineered quantum systems, exploiting quantum effects - are beginning to merge. The research activities in Berlin are particularly strong at this fresh interaction between the fields.

Research group Piet Brouwer
Research group of Jens Eisert
Research group of Felix von Oppen
Junior group of Johannes Reuter

Collaborative Research Centers

The department is home to the following collaborative research centers:

Individual research groups are involved in additional CRCs. There are also a large number of other externally funded projects.

For details regarding all of the research groups and the collaborative research centers, please see their individual contributions.