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Schools Physics in Germany

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Hi everyone!

I'm Alex and I just moved to Germany. I'm starting my Bachelor this October and just wanted to get some advices on German Universities for my application. For example, which uni has more focuses on Astrophysics. Or which uni is prestigious for certain fields in physics.

And I wanted to get some general advices as well. So there are two langauges, with which I can study physics in: English or German. I'm willing to do either of 'em, but wanted some advice on this one. Maybe it'll be better if I pursue my study in English, because maybe it would be more useful somehow?

Thanks for reading and a huge thanks if you're willing to help me out :D
 

fresh_42

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Hi everyone!

I'm Alex and I just moved to Germany. I'm starting my Bachelor this October and just wanted to get some advices on German Universities for my application. For example, which uni has more focuses on Astrophysics. Or which uni is prestigious for certain fields in physics.

And I wanted to get some general advices as well. So there are two langauges, with which I can study physics in: English or German. I'm willing to do either of 'em, but wanted some advice on this one. Maybe it'll be better if I pursue my study in English, because maybe it would be more useful somehow?

Thanks for reading and a huge thanks if you're willing to help me out :D
If it doesn't matter to you, then you should choose German as language. It is easier then in case you want to change the university for whatever reason, or find practica. English is all around anyway: journals, papers, books, we here. It comes automatically, but there are certainly more opportunities in German as there are in English.

Will you apply at a technical university or a general one? There are some accelerators which I think means there is also a focus on nuclear and particle physics in those cities. Karlsruhe and Darmstadt for certain, maybe also Hamburg and Berlin where I don't know the current status of the machines.

For the first part of your study (Grundstudium) it basically doesn't matter at which university you study, probably even for the Bachelor. Things might be a bit different if you want to pursue your master or PhD, where focuses of certain universities play a bigger role than in a Bachelor study.

In any case you should decide beforehand whether you want to have a fast degree and find a job, or whether you will stay in physics and pursue a PhD. This makes a big difference when choosing the courses.
Instead of asking which university has which focuses, better tell what you are interested in - if this is possible at all at this stage.

@vanhees71 certainly knows better which are currently the answers to your questions.
 
6
2
If it doesn't matter to you, then you should choose German as language. It is easier then in case you want to change the university for whatever reason, or find practica. English is all around anyway: journals, papers, books, we here. It comes automatically, but there are certainly more opportunities in German as there are in English.

Will you apply at a technical university or a general one? There are some accelerators which I think means there is also a focus on nuclear and particle physics in those cities. Karlsruhe and Darmstadt for certain, maybe also Hamburg and Berlin where I don't know the current status of the machines.

For the first part of your study (Grundstudium) it basically doesn't matter at which university you study, probably even for the Bachelor. Things might be a bit different if you want to pursue your master or PhD, where focuses of certain universities play a bigger role than in a Bachelor study.

In any case you should decide beforehand whether you want to have a fast degree and find a job, or whether you will stay in physics and pursue a PhD. This makes a big difference when choosing the courses.
Instead of asking which university has which focuses, better tell what you are interested in - if this is possible at all at this stage.

@vanhees71 certainly knows better which are currently the answers to your questions.
If my financial situation is okay after my undergrad, I will, without a doubt, pursue my studies until phD. At the moment I'm interested in optics and astrophysics, but I don't want to narrow my field before I sufficiently know.

And I don't know whether I should apply to TU or a normal Universität actually. I didn't realise there would be a difference to be frank.

(Btw thanks for the German/English advice. I'll sure keep that in mind :) )
 

fresh_42

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TU and FH are usually more focused on the practical side and general universities more on the theory part. Again a choice for the future: TU are often better to find jobs, general universities if you want to pursue an academic career. The distance FH to universities is probably bigger than TU to universities.

The problem is, that such decisions (fast degree, TU vs. general uni) often play a bigger role when it comes to the end of a study. Something you are normally not being told at the beginning. E.g. on the job market it usually is only important whether you have achieved your degree, and the faster the better, whereas such a strategy means to leave out many courses which you would need in an academic career. Similar is true for TU vs. general university. People expect more technical knowhow from students of TUs, and more theoretical knowhow from the others. Whether this is right or wrong is another question. But it could lead to a different kind of job interviews.

I guess I should recommend Frankfurt since I know two good teachers there. One has a famous blog, and the other one is a member of us. :wink:

This plays in my opinion a bigger role than any focus or reputation. You will learn good physics at any university, TU or not, but it is a bit of a game whether you will find teachers which match your way of learning,
 

vanhees71

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I'd not say that it makes any difference whether you study physics at a Technical University or simply a university. It might only be that at a TU you have different choices when looking for a MSc or PhD topic (in the German system to start a PhD you need an MSc first).

FH (Fachhochschule), nowadays in Germany confusingly often also called "University of Applied Science", is, however, different. As the name says this type of higher-education facility is aiming at the practical side, and physics is taught as a fundamental need for the engineers. You also cannot get a PhD from an FH (yet).

It's indeed right that it is not so important which university you choose for your BSc studies. The curriculum is pretty much the same everywhere, and that's natural for physics since you simply have to learn the usual curriculum, no matter how you specialize later in you MSc and/or PhD work.

That's what's also great with physics: You an choose your specialization when you are really able to know pretty well what the oppotunities are, i.e., after the BSc you have learnt a lot of fundamental physics, so that you know what each special topic really is about. Another good thing is that physics has needs for a broad variety of interests: You can as well specialize at a very applied subject, i.e., very much inclined towards the engineering side of physics. E.g., in my field of high-energy heavy-ion collisions right now there are people at one of our institutes at the Goethe University Frankfurt who develop new detectors for an upcoming new research center close to Darmstadt (the Facility for Ion and Antiproton Research), where already the Helmholtz Center for Heavy-Ion research (Gesellschaft für Schwerionenforschung, GSI) is located. They have to deal with high data-acquisition rates with challenging needs for readout electronics and material properties (radiation hardness etc.). As a theorist, I'm not very familiar with this. Then there are experimentalists who rather than dealing with the construction of measurement devices or accelerators and so on, but who just use the data taken from the accelerators (in Frankfurt people are involved in both the HADES detector at GSI, which is also part of the new CBM experiment under construction at FAIR as well as in ALICE, the dedicated heavy-ion experiment at the Large Hardon Collider (LHC) at CERN). They use the data and evaluate them to investigate specific physical questions concerning these collisions and the hot and dense medium of strongly interacting matter, which at the higher collision energies involves an exotic state, called the Quark Gluon Plasma which is literally matter "of the big bang", i.e., in nature it existed only a view microseconds after the big bang, and then it underwent a phase transition to the usual hadrons surrounding us (protons and neutrons at the end, making up the atomic nuclei and thus finally all matter around us). At lower energies the medium is rather hadronic but also in a highly excited state, behaving rather as a collectively moving fluid than single particles. This brings me finally to my own business, theoretical heavy-ion physics. I'd describe it as a rather phenomomenological kind of theorizing, i.e., it's close to the experiments. We use a rich variety of theoretical-physics tools, starting from fundamental quantum field theory (particularly Quantum Chromo Dynamics) but rather than dealing with two-particle collisions and the outcome like the high-energy particle (HEP) physicists we have to think about the many-body problems of QCD, i.e., how does a medium consisting of quarks and gluons behave, when it's created in a heavy-ion collision. First one has to understand the medium in equilibrium, and for this there are people using lattice-QCD calculations at finite temperature (and as a fascinating and very challenging contemporary research topic also at finite baryo-chemical potential), i.e., computer codes implementing Monte-Carlo calculations of the path integral of QCD to find out about the equation of state (energy density, pressure, entropy and all that) of strongly interacting matter and maybe learn something about the phase diagram with some phase (or also crossover) transitions. Then you also need to understand the off-equilibrium behavior. Thus other people are investigating transport descriptions, which can be derived from quantum many-body theory and in another approximation step a hydrodynamical description. This of course all as relativistic theories. One outcome of all the heavy-ion theory of the past decades is a much better understanding of relativistic viscous hydrodynamics and its relation to the fundamental quantum field theories.

Another fascinating aspect of physics is that many at the first glance very distant looking, fields are dependent on each other. One example is the heavy-ion physics I talked about above. It's also heavily needed in astrophysics! One topic is to understand neutron stars. The equation of state of neutron-rich matter is crucial to describe neutron stars with general relativity and to understand, e.g., why there are quite heavy neutron stars of 2 solar masses possible. Another very hot topic today is the physics of neutron-star mergers. With the discovery of how to detect gravitational wave signals by the LIGO/VIRGO collaboration from black-hole mergers and also one from neutron-star mergers (socalled kilonovae) an entire new field of observations in astrophysics has opened. Combined with the usual observations of electromagnetic waves over all possible wavelengths (from the IR, visible light, UV, X-rays up to gamma rays) one gains completely new insights about neutron stars. From comparing general-relativistic simulations of neutron-star mergers using general relativity, relativistic hydro and/or transport one can also learn about the strong-interaction matter equation of state. Then it's also pretty clear that many of the heavy elements are produced not only in supernovae but also in such neutron-star merger events. Thus not only the relativistic heavy-ion collisions physics comes in but also the nuclear structure physics and the various processes (among them the rapid-neutron-capture process or r-process) of element synthesis in supernovae and neutron-star merger events are interesting too, and they are also investigated in the future at FAIR. In Franfurt we have a large theoretical astro-physics group dealing with both neutron-star physics and the general-relativistic simulation of neutron-star mergers. Last but not least one of the PIs of the Event Horizon Telescope, Luciano Rezzolla, is the leader of the latter group of theoretical astrophysics.

This is just one example of a specific field (relativistic heavy-ion physics, high-energy nuclear physics) of the broad intesting possibilities of research you can do when specializing for your MSc and/or PhD work. As I said, with the BSc studies you'll be much better suited to really decide what you are interested in, and you can always change the university for you MSc if some specific topic you are most interested in is not covered at the place where you do your BSc.

Concerning the formalities, for the BSc studies you should expect that almost all courses are taught in German, and you need also a proof of sufficient level of German. For Frankfurt you find the information about this here, and I think that's not different at any other German university:

http://www.goethe-university-frankfurt.de/67109673/German_language_requirements?

You don't need to worry about learning physics in German first. English come automatically. Not only are the many textbooks and of course all recent research papers in English, but physics is a very international business. So very often the common language in the working groups is English rather than German, because there are many international postdocs and PhD students around.
 

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