The story of the Tübingen Max Planck Institutes begins in Berlin-Dahlem. In 1943 it was decided that various departments and research groups from the two Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes (KWI), the KWI for Biochemistry and the KWI for Biology, should be relocated to the south of Germany. Both Institutes were subsequently established in Tübingen, and in 1948 became part of the newly founded Max Planck Society.
Neither of these two original Institutes is still in Tübingen: the MPI for Biochemistry moved to Munich in 1956 and the MPI for Biology closed completely in 2004. However, the Institutes on the campus today evolved directly from the two earlier ones as an extension of some of their most successful and forward-looking research activities.
The origin of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology dates back to the year 1937, when Adolf Butenandt and some of his fellow scientists from the Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes for Biochemistry and Biology in Berlin recognized the importance of viruses as model organisms and started a new group working in the field of virus research. In 1941 this group was granted their own laboratory in Berlin-Dahlem, which relocated to Tübingen in 1943. As part of a reorganization in 1954, this group became the Max Planck Institute for Virus Research, one of the first Institutes of the newly established Max Planck Society. Research success led to the continual expansion of the Institute, eventually necessitating the construction of new buildings. In 1960 the Institute moved into three separate buildings on the present site.
A gradual shift of research focus in the direction of developmental biology led to the re-naming of the Institute as the “Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology” in 1984. As a response to huge successes in the field of developmental genetics, a fish house was constructed in 1992 in order to house the world’s largest zebrafish colony. By this time the 1960 buildings no longer met the standards required by modern research, so in 2005 one large new building was constructed to house four of the by then six different departments. The other two departments are housed in the adjacent Friedrich-Miescher Laboratory building, which was constructed in 1970 and was also modernized in the course of the building measures. These buildings provide not only an up-to-date standard of research facilities, but also allow the future expansion of the Institute into a whole new range of research areas.
In 1958 a cybernetics research group consisting of the zoologist Bernhard Hassenstein, the physicist Hans Wenking and theoretical physicist Werner Reichardt was established at the Max Planck Institute for Biology. After the departure of Hassenstein from Tübingen in 1960, the research group was upgraded to a department under the leadership of Reichardt. This starting point led to the foundation of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics by Reichardt in 1968. The main research focus was, from the very beginning, the perception and processing of visual information in the nervous system. In the early years of the Institute, the emphasis was on analysis of the visual system in insects. Subsequent staff appointments, progress in the area of perception as well as developments in the available technology have led to a shift during the last 15 years, so that the main research focus is now on the elucidation of cognitive processes.
The two departments “Human Perception, Cognition and Action” (founded in 1993) and “Physiology of Cognitive Processes” (founded in 1997) approach the subject using complementary methods which aim to clarify systematically the complex activities in the brains of primates. The work of these departments was further complemented in 2001 with the founding of the department of “Empirical Inference”. With the establishment in 2006 of a fourth department, the High-Field Magnetic Resonance Center, the expansion of the Institute was completed.
The Friedrich Miescher Laboratory (FML) was founded in 1969 by the Max Planck Society to support young researchers. It was named after the Swiss physician and biologist Friedrich Miescher, who discovered DNA 140 years ago in Tübingen. Many renowned scientists, amongst them Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, started their career at the FML. It offers outstanding junior scientists the opportunity to establish a research group, realize their own research ideas and launch an independent research career.
During the last 40 years more than 25 junior research groups have worked on different biological questions at the FML. The current four junior groups are investigating how genetic information is encoded in the DNA and reliably inherited and how signals are transducted in plant cells.