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31 October 2006

Penetrating the Dark Secrets of the Universe

Successful in the Initiative for Excellence: an interview with Heidelberg astrophysicist Matthias Bartelmann on the Heidelberg Graduate School of Fundamental Physics

Professor Bartelmann, you are the coordinator of the Heidelberg Graduate School of Fundamental Physics, which was successful in the first round of the Initiative for Excellence contest. In the next five years, funding of over five million euros will be placed at the disposal of this project, which is due to start in 2007. First of all, what is "fundamental physics"?

Basically, it is the kind of physics that has no immediate application but is designed to enhance our understanding of the material world and the laws of nature.

Which sectors are involved?

At the Graduate School we will be looking at three different sectors, the first revolves around astronomy and cosmic physics, the second around cosmology and particle physics and the third around the physics of complex quantum systems.

How many doctoral students will be participating in the Graduate School?

We do not intend to increase the number of our doctoral students. At present we have about 200 of them investigating various aspects of fundamental physics at the Faculty of Physics and Astronomy. This number will stay more or less the same, the difference being that we will be advertising vacancies on the international plane and can thus select the best candidates.

What will be special about the education and training provided at the Graduate School?

The first new thing is that we will be offering a systematic course of graduate studies, a structured study programme for doctoral students. Secondly, this programme will be modular in nature. We have worked out an extensive choice of classes giving doctoral students the opportunity of selecting those aspects they require for their work, after consultation with their supervisors.

What about national and international connections?

We are working on exchange programmes between the Heidelberg Faculty and various partners all over the world that we are already cooperating with. The Graduate School will provide resources for the time-limited international exchange of doctoral students. And finally, we will be supplying our doctoral students with key competencies, including scientific English, presentation techniques and scientific writing. They will also be instructed in project leadership and applying for external funding. Teaching at the Graduate School will be in English.

How is the School organised?

All the Heidelberg institutions concerned with fundamental physics will be involved in the Graduate School. At the University itself these are the Institute of Theoretical Physics, the Physics Institute, the Kirchhoff Institute of Physics, the Institute of Physical Chemistry and the Centre for Astronomy. Then we have the non-university research institutions, Heidelberg's Max Planck Institutes of Astronomy and of Nuclear Physics. Both the students and teachers at the Graduate School will come from all these institutions.

What is the role of the Graduate Academy planned at the University of Heidelberg?

Its aim is to introduce structured doctoral programmes throughout the University. What we are doing now is to ensure that this happens in the field of fundamental physics. In future our Graduate School will be an integral feature of the Heidelberg Graduate Academy.

Cooperation already exists with the Max Planck Institutes, if I'm not mistaken?

Yes, we already have a graduate school in conjunction with the Max Planck Institute of Astronomy and there is another one planned in conjunction with the Max Planck Institute of Nuclear Physics. The existing graduate school will be integrated into the Graduate School of Fundamental Physics and the same will be true of the graduate school at present still in the planning stage.

How will the Graduate School be run?

There will be a central office for the administration of the Graduate School, situated in the Albert-Überle-Straße in Heidelberg. There will also be a panel of directors.

What will the over 5 million euros from the Initiative for Excellence be used for?

About half of the sum will be spent on new teaching posts, including two full professorships and four junior research group leaders. One third is earmarked for exchanges, programmes for visiting scientists and so on, and about one sixth will go on administration.

Which are the main cooperative ventures?

We collaborate closely with the German Electron Synchrotron (DESY) in Hamburg and the Institute of Heavy Ion Research (GSI) in Darmstadt, with the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva and also with the Research Centre in Karlsruhe. Then we have close working contacts with the Universities of Bonn and Munich. Exchange programmes are planned with about a dozen research institutes all over the world. The doctoral students will play a central role in all these projects.

Which league will the Heidelberg Graduate School of Fundamental Physics be playing in?

It is the first institution of its kind in Germany so far. At present we are taking our bearings from English-speaking countries, where graduate education of this kind has already been a standard feature for quite some time.

Heribert Vogt
Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung

Please address any inquiries to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317
michael.schwarz@rektorat.uni-heidelberg.de
http://www.uni-heidelberg.de/presse/index.html

Irene Thewalt
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 542317
presse@rektorat.uni-heidelberg.de


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