Program - Max Planck School Matter to Life

Mission Statement

The objective of the Max Planck School Matter to Life is to address the questions of “What is life?” and "Can life-like processes, functions and objects be quantitatively described, simulated, predicted and created in the laboratory?". Our work focuses on methods to describe, model, and ultimately harness the laws of physics and chemistry that dictate the biological processes of dynamic spatiotemporal organization of life into molecules, cells, tissues and organisms. Thus, the MPS MtL not only pushes the boundaries of our understanding of life, but also paves the way for filling the knowledge gap in fundamental biology and finding innovative solutions to some of the most pressing challenges in biotechnology and medicine.

The Max Planck School Matter to Life (MPS MtL) offers an international 5-year MSc to PhD Direct Track Program: This is a joint program between Heidelberg University and the University of Göttingen. The program is funded, covering both the tuition and living costs.

The MPS MtL program is divided into two phases, the Master phase (2 years) and PhD phase (3 years). To join the direct track program, you will need to apply to the Matter to Life Master's program. We welcome applications from students with minimum of Bachelor/undergraduate degrees in chemistry, biochemistry, physics, bioengineering or related subjects.

We offer two different foci in Matter to Life (MtL) at our teaching universities:

  • MtL with a focus on Complex Systems and Biological Physics at the University of Göttingen
  • MtL with a focus on Molecular Systems Chemistry and Engineering at Heidelberg University

Upon completion of the Master phase, you can continue your research in the PhD phase (3 years) in the laboratory of any Matter to Life faculty member.


"The Matter to Life program is the perfect choice for me where I could understand what life is from the perspective of Biology, Chemistry and Physics during the Master’s phase and then continue in my area of interest in the PhD phase."

Nitin Bohra, MtL Master Student


Your path in Matter to Life

Master Phase


Matter to Life is an interdisciplinary study program encompassing topics from biology, chemistry, and physics. It is led and taught by experts in this field and focuses on questions including "What is life and how can it be quantitatively described?" and "How do we get from molecules to cellular systems to decision making processes?". The program is taught entirely in English and targets an international student body.

In the first semester you will study a common curriculum with shared lectures between the universities so that you have a strong grounding in the fundamentals required for further study in MtL, and an insight into the interdisciplinary nature of the field. In the second semester you will concentrate on specialized courses which depend on your particular focus. Since this is offered as a joint degree program between Heidelberg University and the University of Göttingen, apart from the mandatory core modules, students can choose courses related to the subject, and avail themselves of the resources offered at at either of the universities. This increased flexibility ensures students can tailor their Master’s depending on their interests and aptitude.

In the third and fourth semesters you will focus on research and work in one or more of our Faculty's laboratories and research groups. After completing the first phase, you will receive a Master's degree and can continue onto the second phase.

To ensure you can devote yourself fully to your research, we will support you with a stipend during this phase.

In addition to your course work, you will attend MtL symposia, student organized retreats, and also get the opportunity to attend scientific talks and workshops. A Buddy program with students from the older cohorts will help with your arrival in Germany, establish a social circle, and overall ensure a smooth start. Our mentoring program with the Faculty Fellows will further help you explore different scientific avenues during your studies, and assist you in career development. This program will offer the opportunity not only to expand one’s scientific network but also their collaboration opportunities. It will promote the mentees to interrogate their future career within the scientific field, and explore opportunities and pathways to achieve the set goals in this context.

See our Master program page for more details about the individual teaching universities and the application page for more details on the application process.

PhD Research Phase

Upon successful completion of the 1st phase of Matter to Life, you may proceed to the 3-year research PhD phase. During this phase you will follow your research interest under the supervision of one of our Faculty members. You will graduate with the academic title "Dr. rer. nat.", the German equivalent to the PhD awarded in English-speaking countries.

Once you have finished the first phase of Matter to Life with an average grade of 2.0 or better you can progress to the second phase of the Matter to Life graduate program. You will work with a Matter to Life Faculty member on a mutually agreed research project. You will then have access to cutting-edge science and modern research facilities as well as to the excellent network of students and Fellows in Matter to Life. We strongly encourage exchange and cooperation within the MtL network as well as with cooperation partners outside of Germany. The mentoring program continues giving you access to advice and help during your PhD and for your future career. On top of this, we offer – in addition to our MtL Symposium twice a year - training on core and lab skills and other broader topics for example conflict management etc.).

You will have a thesis advisory committee consisting of experts in your field which will meet annually to discuss your results and progress in the past year and offer you support and scientific input for the upcoming year.

During your research phase, you will be employed under an employment contract. Visit the PhD phase page for more information.

Alumni Network

After your graduation, you become a member of the alumni network of Matter to Life which brings together the current students of Matter to Life as well as the faculty members and former members. In this way your network can encompass additional connections to industry and academia giving you excellent career opportunities.

Before you decide to start with the Matter to Life direct track, you can apply for a ten-week entirely funded, undergraduate research opportunity (MtL URO) in our faculty. Come to Germany and work in one of our faculty laboratories during a break in your Bachelor studies, get to know new people and experience what it is like to be part of Matter to Life.

More details are available on our URO page.

"It felt like a community I was proud to be a part of. Everybody had a common goal: doing exciting & revolutionary science, but also networking and creating friendships."

Llazar Shkurti, MtL URO 2022 participant

Go to Editor View