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Research at the Institute of Physical Chemistry

Following a long tradition of physical chemistry of soft condensed matter at the University of Cologne, the research activities of the Physical Chemistry Institute are situated at the boundary between chemistry, physics, material science and the life sciences. The interaction between building blocks of matter on the molecular and mesoscopic level determine the macroscopic properties of materials and with it their functionality. Therefore, we are interested in exploring the relationships between the molecular structure of matter and the resulting physical properties. We further use interactions between light and matter to generate new insights into fundamental processes in chemistry and physics and develop new photonic devices for application in the life sciences and medicine.

Novel semiconductors for thin film optoelectronics

Transport phenomena and (opto-)electronic properties in organic thin film semiconductors are the main research focus in the group of Klaus Meerholz, as well as correlations with structural parameters. Devices are developed and optimized in his team, which include organic light–emitting diodes, solar cells, transistors, organic memory, sensors, and batteries. The underlying electronic, photophysical, and charge transport processes are addressed by electrochemical and optical methods, as well as current-voltage analysis. Furthermore, novel processing and coating techniques are. The group activities at the cutting edge of organic electronics have gained prominent visibility – manifested in prestigious projects like COPT.NRW, and the 2014 Max Delbrück Award of the University of Cologne for Prof. Meerholz.

The group led by Selina Olthof focusses on the analysis of the surface of these organic semiconductors, as well as halide perovskite materials. Here, using photoelectron spectroscopy, the occupied and unoccupied energy levels can be analysed as well as the surface composition.

The novel materials are investigated theoretically by state-of-the-art ab-initio quantum chemical methods. Molecular dynamics techniques are applied to investigate the supra-molecular structures, the time-dependent photo-induced properties, and the charge-/energy-transfer dynamics in organic functional molecules, polymers and interfaces. The modeling activity is led by Daniele Fazzi.

Klaus Meerholz
Professor for Physical Chemistry, Speaker of the Research Training Group 2591, Vice speaker of QM2 - Quantum Matter and Materials, Organic Electronics


Selina Olthof
Group leader,
Surface analysis of novel semiconductors


Daniele Fazzi
Group leader,
Molecular Materials Modelling for Energy Applications


Nano Optics and Biophotonics

The research activity of the group of Malte Gather is situated in the field of nanobiophotonics. The group develops nano and micro scale devices that combine light and soft materials. By squeezing electromagnetic waves into microscopic volumes and letting them interact with a range of ‘interesting’ materials, such as ultra-soft jellies, glowing proteins, or organic semiconductors, new technological concepts of biosensing, bioimaging and biomodulation are realised. In these applications light is utilised as a versatile tool to facilitate paradigm shifts in biological understanding and to contribute to technology development for medical research. The work by the group explores fundamentals of the interaction between light and matter and thus also generates new insights in chemistry and physics.

The research of Klas Lindfors concentrates on the ultrafast optical spectroscopy of nanostructures. Of particular interest is the optical response of hybrid nanostructures combining plasmon resonant metal nanostructures with semiconductor heterostructures, organic light emitters, and nonlinear optical materials. The group combines high-resolution optical microscopy with luminescence, scattering, and transmission spectroscopy as well as nonlinear optical techniques to study light-matter interaction in single nanostructures. The absence of ensemble averaging allows probing the details of the interplay of light and matter on the nanoscale.

The lab of Marcel Schubert develops novel microscopic lasers and optical sensing technologies. The interdisciplinary research combines nanofabrication, optical spectroscopy and advanced microscopy techniques to study fundamental biological processes and explore novel applications of biointegrated photonic devices.

Malte Gather
Alexander von Humboldt Professor, Director of the Humboldt Centre for Nano and Biophotonics


Klas Lindfors
Professor for Physical Chemistry,
Nano Optics


Marcel Schubert
Junior-Professor for Biointegrated Photonics


Smart Materials and Nanomagnetism

The structure and dynamics of soft matter, specifically the development of nanostructured, complex materials from organic and inorganic components, is a main issue in the group of Annette Schmidt. Using quasi-static and dynamic methods including rheology, light scattering, magnetometry, and dark field scattering microscopy, the modes and time scale of interaction between the components are investigated. The results are of significance for the development of self-healing polymers, for locomotion and transport strategies at low Reynolds numbers, and for adaptive systems based on responsive soft matter and functional polymers.

The lab of Sabrina Disch applies and develops X-ray and neutron scattering techniques to investigate the multiscale structure and magnetism of nanoparticles and their assemblies. Next to the synthesis and self-organisation of magnetic nanoparticles, the group addresses their fundamental properties relevant for biomedical application, sensors, or devices, such as atomic scale magnetic structure, nanoscale magnetization distribution and dynamics, field-induced orientation and mesoscale interparticle interactions.

Annette M. Schmidt
Professor for Physical Chemistry


Sabrina Disch
Group Leader,
Magnetic Nanoparticles and Nanostructures


Transport in Biological Systems

Presently the research of Simone Wiegand focuses on protein-ligand binding strongly depending on changes of involved hydrogen bonds and electrical charges. The sensitivity of thermophoresis to monitor biochemical and pharmaceutical reactions is used in combination with quasi-elastic neutron scattering and isothermal titration calorimetry to gain a deeper understanding of the process. This will help to improve and accelerate the search for suitable drug compounds and other ligands. We are optimizing optical methods and developing microfluidic devices for fundamental and analytical purposes.

Simone Wiegand
Professor for Physical Chemistry, Transport in Complex Systems, Co-affiliated at the Forschungszentrum Jülich


Experimental Imaging and Image guided therapy

Research activities of the group of Holger Grüll are centred around the development and application of new imaging methods, for preclinical or translational research, and image guided interventions. In their translational imaging laboratory, dedicated imaging systems for optical, ultra sound, magnetic-resonance, computer tomography and other imaging techniques are available allowing multiparametric and multimodal imaging. We also investigate new contrast agents as well as tracers for molecular imaging applications.

Holger Grüll
Professor, Experimental Imaging and Image-Guided Therapy, Co-affiliation at the University Hospital Cologne


Research Networks

The institute of Physical Chemistry significantly contributes to the material science focus of the Chemistry Department, and several groups are engaged in the University of Cologne Center of Competence "Quantum Matter and Materials" (QM2).

The Graduate Program 'Template-Designed Optoelectronic Devices' (TIDE) aims to provide comprehensive doctoral education in the field of Organic Electronics (OE) to meet the requirements of highly qualified and multidisciplinary professionals. It comprises a network of internationally recognized scientists and offers the participating doctoral candidates a unique research environment.

The institute also contains the core of the life science focussed activities of the Department. The “Humboldt Centre for Nano and Biophotonics” was established in 2020 with funding by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. The centre interlinks the research of different departments in the Faculty of Sciences (Chemistry, Biology and Physics) and the Faculty of Medicine.

Further cooperation involves other groups from chemistry, physics, biology, engineering, and medicine at the University and beyond, strong conjunctions to the Forschungszentrum Jülich, in particular the Institute of Biological Information Processing 4, 5 and 8, and the IHRS graduate school BioSoft.