Max Planck Schools – Cutting-Edge Research with International Appeal

Concentrating scientific excellence; attracting young global research talent to Germany; strengthening innovative basic research; undertaking world-class science – These are the aims of the ‘Max Planck Schools’.

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The Max Planck Schools will focus on research-oriented teaching: They will introduce students and doctoral candidates to innovative research questions. © Thinkstock

The idea of the Max Planck Schools is to network various elements to create major, world-class entities. Whereas in countries like Britain and the USA research excellence is concentrated in such strongholds as Oxford and Harvard, the best researchers in Germany are often widely dispersed. They work at various universities and non-university research institutions throughout Germany. The Max Planck Schools aim to concentrate Germany’s decentralized research excellence and thus to increase the attractiveness of the German science landscape for top international students and graduates. Starting in 2018, three selected Schools will begin a five-year pilot phase.

The Schools are intended to enhance the visibility of German research excellence around the world

The name Max Planck is recognized worldwide. It stands for the highest-level scientific excellence and German cutting-edge research. The Schools will make this excellence globally visible and attract outstanding young scientists – all the more so, because, in addition to innovative basic research, the Max Planck Schools will also focus on research-oriented teaching: They will introduce students and doctoral candidates to innovative research questions at an early stage, encouraging them to explore the frontiers of science and harnessing talent, curiosity and knowledge from different sources in order to undertake creative scientific work.

The Max Planck Schools will compete with the international elite universities

Interested students will have to prove their particular interest in research, a high degree of motivation and above-average capabilities in a multi-stage selection process. The calls for applications are designed to match the international application cycles of the elite universities. This is because the Max Planck Schools want to compete for the smartest minds with the likes of Harvard and Oxford right from the beginning. The Schools will enable outstanding university graduates to gain their doctorate, where possible through a fast-track scheme that includes a master’s degree.

The following Max Planck Schools will start operating in 2018 as part of the pilot phase:

Max Planck School of Cognition

Cognitive research touches on the fields of psychology, physics, computer science, philosophy, biology and medicine. The focus of the School’s research includes the following questions: What cognitive processes are linked to language and which of them make it easier to understand others? What are the genetic mechanisms that contribute to individual differences in perception? How are different forms of learning and decision-making organized in living beings and how could they be replicated in artificial intelligence?

Max Planck School of Photonics

Photonics involves understanding and controlling light, for example to be able to develop contactless sensors, energy sources and data media. Among the questions that the Max Planck School of Photonics will address are the following: Can new types of imaging methods help in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and infections both non-invasively and in real time? Can biological systems such as cells be studied at molecular level using nanoscopy in order to be able to better understand their development and develop new diagnostic procedures in oncology for example? Can chemical reactions be imaged on an atomic scale so that they can be better controlled?

Max Planck School on Physics, Chemistry and Construction of Life

What is life exactly? Can lifelike processes, functions and objects be simulated and replicated in the laboratory? The Max Planck School on Physics, Chemistry and Construction of Life aims to investigate how these functions can be quantitatively described and their processes predicted. Investigating the fundamental principles of life will not only have a decisive impact on such research fields as biophysics, synthetic biology, systems chemistry and bioinformatics, but also requires the consideration of ethical, social and philosophical aspects of the fundamental definitions of life. Questions regarding responsibility, autonomy and law as well as the definition of lifelike systems will therefore be included in the syllabus.


The Max Planck Schools are a joint initiative of the Max Planck Society, German universities and the German research organizations. The three pilot Schools will receive a total of nine million euros in funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) each year over an initial period of five years. Each of the Schools will be subjected to ongoing evaluation by the BMBF right from the start. Scientific criteria will be used to examine whether the Schools can provide innovative impulses for research as well as for research-oriented teaching.