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23 October 2001

Upswing for Physics in Heidelberg

38 percent more new students than last winter semester — Vice-rector Prof. Dr. Karlheinz Meier: "Public events, TV programmes, open days and enhanced media presence have successfully presented physics as a key science" — Still a shortage of budding physics teachers

The general disinclination observable in the 1990s to embark on a course of study in the natural sciences appears to be over — at least as far as physics in Heidelberg is concerned. With a total of 239 students newly enrolled for one of the three physics courses available in Heidelberg (Diplom, physics teacher, Master in Physics), the Faculty can point to a 38% increase in study entrants over and against last winter. After a sticky patch in the mid-90s figures are now back on par with the early 90s, so that the teaching capacity at the Faculty is once again being stretched to its limits.

One of the main factors in this turn-round was definitely the joint effort undertaken by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the German Physics Society in the year 2000, which was officially declared the "Year of Physics". "Public events, TV programmes, open days and enhanced media presence have successfully presented physics as a key science," says vice-rector Prof. Dr. Karlheinz Meier, himself a physicist.

The Faculty in Heidelberg offers its students an exceptionally wide-ranging programme, says Meier, extending from interdisciplinary subjects like environmental physics and biophysics to the exciting theoretical issues involved in the study of elementary particles or the origins of the universe. "Cooperation with other faculties and external institutions is close, open and uncomplicated," says the vice-rector. "Students have access to almost all fields of modern science." The large number of new physics students has been welcomed by all the other science departments in Heidelberg.

Budding physics teachers at a premium

The general euphoria is marred somewhat by the lack of interest in the course that prepares students to become physics teachers at secondary schools. In Heidelberg the course has attracted only 33 applications and at other universities the situation is, if anything, even worse. Meier forecasts a major crisis at secondary education level if nothing is done to alleviate the situation. In the short and medium term programmes are required that would attract physicists from research and industry to the schools, if only temporarily.

Heidelberg's Faculty of Physics and Astronomy has the largest number of physics students anywhere in Germany. In 2000 179 of them successfully completed the Diplom course, while the number of doctoral dissertations accepted by the Faculty was 122. The heavy teaching load is shared by 44 professors of physics, astronomy and computer science, aided and abetted by a number of teaching staff from external institutions.

Please address any inquiries to:
Prof. Dr. Karlheinz Meier
phone: 06221/544336 or -5, fax: 544917

Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

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Updated: 30.10.2001


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