Peter Hegemann

Peter Hegemann (born 11 December 1954 in Münster, West Germany) is Professor and Head of the Department for Biophysics at the Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany. He studied chemistry in Münster and Munich and earned his PhD 1984 in Munich with an investigation into the structure and function of halorhodopsin, a light-driven chloride pump in Halobacterium halobium. As a postdoc, he worked in the research groups of Dieter Oesterhelt (1984 to 1985) and with Kenneth W. Foster at Syracuse University (1985 to 1986). In 1986, he started a research group in the Department of Membrane Biochemistry at the Max-Planck-Institute of Biochemistry in Frankfurt, Germany. He became professor at the University of Regensburg and was appointed full professor at the Humboldt-University of Berlin in 2004.


Hegemann is credited with the discovery of channelrhodopsins, a family of directly light-gated ion channels. This discovery has opened the new field of optogenetics, manipulating the activity of neurons and other cells with light. Since the original discovery of channelrhodopsin in the green alga Chlamydomonas, Hegemann and his group have improved its properties by molecular engineering, resulting in a wide variety of designer opsins which are faster, more sensitive, responsive to different colors of light, or conduct different ions than natural channelrhodopsins. These molecular tools have enabled neuroscientists around the world to stimulate genetically defined populations of neurons non-invasively and with great precision.

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