After compulsory military service, he studied biochemistry at the University of Tübingen, working for his final year at Dieter Oesterhelt’s laboratory on ATPase activity of halobacteria.
Hartmut later worked on the crystallisation of membrane proteins - essential for their structure elucidation by X-ray crystallography. Together with Michel and Huber, Deisenhofer determined the three-dimensional structure of a protein complex found in certain photosynthetic bacteria. This membrane protein complex, called a photosynthetic reaction center, was known to play a crucial role in initiating a simple type of photosynthesis.
Between 1982 and 1985, the three scientists used X-ray crystallography to determine the exact arrangement of the more than 10,000 atoms that make up the protein complex.
Their research increased the general understanding of the mechanisms of photosynthesis, revealed similarities between the photosynthetic processes of plants and bacteria and established a methodology for crystallising membrane proteins. Since 1987 he is director of the Molecular Membrane Biology department at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysics in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, and professor of biochemistry at the Goethe University Frankfurt.
Member of National Academy of Sciences (foreign associate), Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences (foreign), European Molecular Biology Organization, German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, German Chemical Society, German Society Biochemistry & Molecular Biology (president 1993-1995), Royal Society (foreign).
M. Ilona S. Leger, 1979. 2 children.