Atomically Resolved Dynamics Department
Director: R.J. Dwayne Miller
The Atomically Resolved Dynamics Department is one of the two founding core research programs of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD). R. J. Dwayne Miller officially took up the position as Director on July 1, 2013. The MPSD, itself, officially came into being on January 1, 2014.
The Science. The main research theme is well captured in the name. The world is dynamic not static. The vision for this division is to take up the charge to directly observe the primary processes governing structural dynamics over all relevant space-time relationships. To this end, there have been enormous strides in developing ultrabright electron sources that are capable of literally lighting up atomic motions. The spatial coherence of these sources is now sufficient to bring even complex biological systems into atomic focus. In parallel, there is a research thrust on coherent multidimensional spectroscopic methods from the deep UV to midIR, further complemented with a laser source development program. This additional “dimension” to the research program provides the quantum state dynamics or electronic degrees of freedom to fully construct the operating forces at play in driving structural transitions.
The research problems cover the direct observation of the key modes governing chemical and biological processes to strongly driven phase transitions and coherent control of matter waves. This research is leading towards a dynamical (modal) basis to understand how matter interconverts from one form to another. In this respect, one of the grand challenges and unifying research themes is to resolve the structure-function relationship in biological systems. How do the specific, highly evolved structures of proteins/biomolecules direct the chemistry essential to life? The answer to this question will help us go to the next length scale in control over molecular and material properties.
Innovation. The research activities have led to a number of significant technological advances, with 6 startup companies coming out of the research program. There is a major effort funded by an Advanced European Research Council Grant to explore the discovery of a new mechanism for laser driven phase transitions to enable surgery at the fundamental (single cell) limit to minimally invasive surgery. It is the first method of any kind capable of surgery with no scar tissue. Over 50 surgeons are currently collaborating with researchers within the division to bring these developments into practice. What originated as a blue sky research question has shown the true value of basic research. This new concept holds enormous promise for significantly improving outcomes from medical intervention and in situ biodiagnostics. The division has a strong tradition in innovation and knowledge translation that greatly enhances the research environment.
Science Outreach. The group is deeply committed to explain the importance of science to the general public and to help people maintain their “inner scientist” — that innate curiosity we are born with. It is important for the scientific community to learn to explain why science matters (or the classic question “So what’s it good for?”). See the section on science outreach for details and philosophy towards public engagement.