Physicists search for laws underlying the natural processes on earth and in the cosmos.
An article by Maren Wernecke in collaboration with Jan Ludwig
That is what it’s about
Time and space are the two major dimensions of physics. It always involves movements, interactions and energy. Physicists explore and describe the behaviour of the smallest particles, deal with the structure and properties of matter and try to fathom the universe. "Physicists want to understand what holds the world together at its core," says Gert-Ludwig Ingold, professor at the Uni Augsburg and spokesperson for the conference of the departments of Physics. The three areas of mathematics, theoretical physics and experimental physics are dealt with in roughly equal parts in the first three or four semesters. In mathematics, four hours of analysis or linear algebra a week are common at the beginning. Theoretical physics focuses on traditional mechanics, electrodynamics, thermodynamics and statistical physics as well as quantum mechanics. Students learn how to perform calculations using many models. The aim is for students to gain insight into how the individual phenomena are mathematically related. Experimental physics initially focuses on mechanics, the theory of heat, electrodynamics and optics followed later on by quantum physics, atomic and molecular physics as well as solid-state, nuclear and particle physics. Pictures and analogies help to understand phenomena better – for example the idea that electrons behave like waves. Students learn how to deal with measuring instruments and conduct tests in the lab. The experiments become more complicated each semester. Many experiments are also presented in the lectures at the beginning. Students can then specialise in the later semesters of the Bachelor's. Possible subjects include atomic and molecular physics, semi-conductor physics, quantum optics and photonics, surface physics or gravity and relativity. The specialisations offered differ from university to university. For prospective teachers, the focus is on experimental physics.
suitability, obstacles, misconceptions
Mathematical relations, derivations and proofs – the first semesters are similar to a degree course in Mathematics. "I need mathematics to explain something as physically elementary as a pendulum," says Ingold. Even bright students can't afford to start preparing for examinations shortly before: students who are sloppy in their follow-up of lectures or who don't complete their practice exercises consistently are quickly left behind. Part of the learning process is spending at times hours puzzling over a single task – sometimes without finding the right solution. But persistence is worthwhile. "The amount of work at the beginning is extremely high. But if you survive the first semesters, you are very likely to succeed," says Ingold. Securing a place at university is not a problem: most Bachelor's degree courses in Physics do not have course entrance restrictions.