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Studying Chemistry in Germany

Chemists are concerned with the production and properties of fabrics
An article by Daniel Kastner

Studying Chemistry in Germany
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That is what it’s about

Chemical processes take place constantly and everywhere: in solar cells or mobile phone batteries, in plants and in the human body. Chemists study reactions between molecules in nature and replicate them in the lab. On this basis, they develop new materials, processes and active ingredients that are used, for example, in fuel cells, medicines or cleaning agents. "As a chemist, we deal with contemporary problems such as the exhaust gas cleaning in diesel vehicles and with future issues such as the nutrition of the world population," says Arno Pfitzner, professor at the University of Regensburg and spokesman for the Conference of the Departments of Chemistry. Currently, chemists are researching new methods of water splitting for energy generation, fuels from renewable raw materials and artificial photosynthesis. And they are trying to figure out how plastics can be so degraded that they do not end up as microplastics in the environment and our bodies.

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This is how the course runs

During the first four semesters, the students focus on organic, inorganic, physical and analytical chemistry. They learn what properties the elements in the periodic table have and how basic reactions occur. They deal with compounds with and without carbon, with redox reactions and acid-base equilibria, with thermodynamics and bonding theory. Mathematics and physics are also included. In the lectures, chemical experiments are often presented - in the laboratory, the students learn in parallel how to determine masses and volumes, how to prepare substances, and of which components substance mixtures are made up. They work with test tubes, pipettes and Bunsen burners, use dyes and practice dealing with corrosive or toxic compounds. "Chemistry is a mostly experimental science. That's why practical work is a part of it until the end of the course,” says Wolfram Koch, Managing Director of the Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker. For the experiments, the students write protocols and evaluate the results on the computer. Digitisation and big data play an important role here - because the results should also be findable and usable for third parties. Starting in the fifth semester, students choose their own specializations - such as materials science or atmospheric chemistry. Often they can then start their own research project.

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Typical questions raised within the subject

  • How do you determine which substances are contained in foods?
  • How can we detect traces of impurities in drinking water?
  • Why does ice melt when mixed with salt?
  • What could powerful batteries of the future look like?
  • How can phosphates be recovered from sewage treatment plants?
  • How to use visible light to drive a chemical reaction? How do you make emulsions?

The subject suits you,...

...if, next to a love of experimenting, you also have manual skills. "The students have to learn how to construct experiments in a meaningful way and then afterwards, to clean everything properly," says Arno Pfitzner. Teamwork is the rule in the lab. Abstract and analytical thinking as well as a good spatial imagination are just as important as the practical work. You also need frustration tolerance, discipline and perseverance. "Especially at the beginning, the workload is fierce," says Arno Pfitzner. And it could be that an experiment does not work out.

Is there a numerus clausus?

Only around one third of the degree programs have a numerus clausus. At particularly popular universities, the NC could be at the highest grades.

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