Robert Huber: 1988 - Chemistry

Robert Huber
Robert Huber

Category: Nobel Prize in Chemistry (jointly with Johann Deisenhofer and Hartmut Michel)


Prize motivation: “For the determination of the three-dimensional structure of a photosynthetic reaction centre”

How light becomes life: Robert Huber helped to decipher the process of photosynthesis – and was honoured with the 1988 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his efforts.

During the 1980s scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried, Bavaria, achieved a pioneering breakthrough: a team working with Robert Huber made a decisive contribution to gaining an understanding of photosynthesis, the process that enables plants to feed themselves and at the same time produce oxygen.

Outstanding reputation

During the 1970s Robert Huber built up a department in Martinsried that specialised in the X-ray structure analysis of proteins. The department’s outstanding reputation also attracted the young biochemist Hartmut Michel, who moved from the University of Würzburg to Martinsried in 1979. When Michel was able to crystallise a membrane protein complex for the first time, the expertise of Huber’s department became extremely important. This was because as a crystal the membrane protein complex could be subjected to detailed X-ray examination, which finally made it possible to gain an understanding of its role as a reaction centre in photosynthesis.

Extraordinary breakthrough

In 1985 Robert Huber, Hartmut Michel and Huber’s long-term colleague Johann Deisenhofer finally succeeded in determining the three-dimensional structure of one of these reaction centres for the first time. It therefore became possible to understand the photosynthetic light reaction as well as numerous ways in which proteins function. Today Huber is also contributing his knowledge to two biotechnology firms that, among other things, are committed to research into active ingredients for new medicines and the struggle against diseases like multiple sclerosis. At the same time, the scientist has remained true to his institute in Martinsried: the professor emeritus is head of the Structure Research group at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, one of the largest institutes of the internationally renowned Max Planck Society.


  • 20 February 1937: born in Munich
  • 1956 to 1963: studied chemistry at the Technische Universität München (TUM)
  • 1963 to 1972: research and teaching at TUM (1968: habilitation; from 1976: adjunct professor; since 2013: emeritus of excellence)
  • 1972 to 2005: director of the Structure Research department at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried near Munich
  • since 2005: director emeritus and head of the research group on Structure Research at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry
Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry

Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry

Proteins are the molecular building blocks and engines of the cell, and are involved in almost all processes of life. The scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) investigate the structure of proteins and how they function – from individual molecules up to whole organisms. With about 850 employees coming from 45 nations, the MPIB is one of the largest institutes within the Max Planck Society. In currently seven departments and about 25 research groups, scientists contribute to the newest findings in the areas of biochemistry, cell biology, structural biology, biophysics and molecular science. They are supported by several scientific, administrative and technical service facilities. Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry