Research focus areas of the Faculty of Physics

A significant advantage of physics in Göttingen as compared to other places is the broad range of areas where active research is being done. The Faculty of Physics offers the following research areas:

Associated to these focus areas are streams within the physics programs of study. Each stream starts with one or more introductory lecture courses, which more advanced modules then build on. To help students choose, an overview of the streams is given once a year, in the summer semester – slides from these overview sessions are available here.

How streams are built into the program of study

Students can start following a stream either in the 5th semester of their Bachelor program, or at the beginning of the Masters program of study. This gives a lot of flexibility by making it possible to change stream at the start of the Masters. Accordingly, there are two broad schemes for following streams while studying:


The focus area astro- and geophysics is offered as part of a collaboration between the Institute for Astrophysics and the Institute for Geophysics.

The area of Astrophysics is structured into five research groups who work on topics in solar physics, stellar astrophysics, galactic and extragalactic astrophysics, and cosmology. Göttingen has dedicated teaching equipment including a 50mm- mirror telescope and a vertical vacuum telescope for observations of the sun. For research purposes, we have access from Göttingen to the Hobby-Eberly-Telescope (HET), the largest single telescope in the Northern hemisphere, and the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), its counterpart in the Southern Hemisphere.

In addition, we use high performance computers to analyse data from the Hubble-Space-Telescope, the X-ray satellites Chandra and XMM-Newton and the space observatories SOHO and STEREO; we also interpret the results using theoretical models and extensive numerical simulations. High-end micromechanical and electronics workshops allow us to build our own telescopes and detectors such as spectrographs. There is a strong local collaboration with the Max-Planck-Institute for solar system, which is located nearby on the university’s North campus.

See here the astrophysics slides from the last overview session.

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Biophysics and physics of complex systems

Biophysics and physics of complex systems are strongly interdisciplinary research areas with multiple cross-connections within the university and the other research institutions in Göttingen. Within the Faculty of Physics a number of new research groups in this field have been added over the last few years, thus establishing the area as a highly visible focus. A number of institutes are involved, from the III. Institute of Physics (Biophysics) to the Institute for X-ray Physics, the Institute for Nonlinear Dynamics, the Institute for Theoretical Physics, the Courant Research Centre for Nanospectroscopy and X-ray Imaging and the Max-Planck-Institutes for Dynamics and Self-Organization and for Biophysical Chemistry.

Research topics within the III. Institute of Physics range from the dynamics of single biological macromolecules and mesoscopic physical properties of biological materials to the complex dynamics of entire living cells, the functioning of whole organs (e.g. excitation patterns of heart muscle) and the behaviour of neural systems as they interact with their environment. In addition, nonlinear and complex dynamical phenomena are being studied, including synchronization and acoustic cavitation.

The various research groups deploy a broad range of modern experimental techniques such as single molecule fluorescence microscopy and spectroscopy, high resolution light microscopy, optical traps, atomic force microscopy and microrheology, ultrasound spectroscopy, combined with computer simulation and even the construction of learning robots. A research group for force microscopy was established as part of a cluster of excellence in “Microscopy at the nanometre range”.

The Institute for X-ray Physics works on the development and application of modern X-ray imaging approaches to complex fluids and biomolecular matter, in particular lens-free imaging with X-rays, X-ray optics, X-ray spectro-microscopy and time-resolved X-ray scattering. A Courant Research Centre with two young researcher groups has also been set up in this area, thanks to funding by Germany’s federal excellence initiative.

Research in the Nonlinear Dynamics / MPI for Dynamics and Self-Organization focuses on questions of nonlinear dynamics (computational neuroscience, nanostructures, quantum chaos, stochastic process, neural dynamics), hydrodynamics, structure formation, nano-biocomplexity and the dynamics of complex fluids.

In the Institute for Theoretical Physicsthe relevant research groups work on complex systems, biophysics and soft matter. They deploy computer simulations, analytical methods of statistical physics, numerical mean field theory and the modelling of stochastic processes to address questions of phase separation, structure formation and kinetics, biological and synthetic membranes, polymer networks, systems with quenched disorder, liquid crystals, stochastic processes, complex networks as well as granular media.

Students following this stream may complete their Masters thesis also in one of the relevant research groups of the MPI for Biophysical Chemistry, the MPI for Dynamics and Self-Organization, the DLR or the Medical Faculties of the University. Further partner organizations include the MPI for Experimental Medicine and research centres such as the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience (BCCN), the DFG Research Centre for Molecular Brain Physiology (CMBP) and the International Max Planck Research School for Physics of Biological and Complex Systems which forms part of the GGNB Graduate School.

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Solid state and materials physics

The physics of condensed matter differs enormously from that of free particles, because of the complex interactions experienced by the building blocks of matter. This has generated new physics questions right at the forefront of current research, both within universities and in industry, ranging from strong electronic correlations and the emergent behaviour arising from nano-structuring to questions concerning the production and use of complex materials.

Solid state physics starts from an atomic scale picture and generally requires a quantum mechanical description of a many-body system. Materials physicssits at the interface of physics, chemistry and materials science and investigates fundamental correlations between the micro-structure of any given material and its resulting properties. The trend towards nano-structured, complex materials requires a broad skill set across both fields. The masters stream in solid state and materials physics reflects this; while standard solid state lectures are offered in most universities, the combination with materials physics that Göttingen offers provides a rare advantage.

To ensure a comprehensive and varied training programme in solid state and materials physics, the structure of the study stream covers both fields in its initial phase (see the detailed curriculum). In parallel we offer specialized lectures right from the start, which will take students to the level of one of the many research projects.

The Masters thesis in the last masters year is always tied closely to ongoing research and is often a stepping stone into a PhD in a related area. As an example it is worth mentioning the Collaborative Research Centre 602 on “Complex structures in condensed matter from the atomic to the mesoscopic scale”, whose core is formed by the research groups linked to the solid state and material physics stream.

Research in solid state and materials physics in Göttingen uses an extremely broad spectrum of the latest methods for characterizing and manufacturingof a diverse range materials. Laboratory classes already provide the opportunity to work with X-ray structure analysis, measurements of electrical transport and specific heat at low temperatures and in strong magnetic fields, high resolution electron microscopy and scanning probe spectrosopy, molecular beam epitaxy for the production of atomic semiconductor layers, advanced lithography and clean room technologies for lateral structure building on the nanoscale. Ongoing projects cover a wide range of materials, from nano-crystalline metals and alloys to glasses, multi-layer systems, nanopore structures, polymers, complex oxides and semiconductor hetero-structures.

Research within the Institute of Theoretical Physics that connects to solid state and materials physics focuses on the theoretical understanding of the electronic properties of solids, aiming to develop models and methods for a controlled description of interaction effects in solid state physics. Concrete systems being investigated include quantum dots and quantum wires, low-dimensional systems with competing interactions, and materials with a metal-insulator (Mott-Hubbard) transition. Methods used include analytical calculations, quantum Monte Carlo simulations, dynamical mean field theory, exact diagonalization and numerical renormalization group approaches.

The solid state and materials physics stream involves five of the ten institutes within the Faculty of Physics (I. / II. / IV. Institute of Physics, Materials Physics, Institute for Theoretical Physics). Materials science is represented also within the Faculty of Chemistry and there is a close collaboration with the Laser-Lab Göttingen, an internationally renowned research centre.

Slides on materials physics from a recent information event

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Within Geophysics there are three research group. These focus on numerical and laboratory experiments in the area of convection as well as electromagnetic measurements of geodynamics, with some connections also to seismology. The specific research areas are experimental geodynamics, geophysical hydrodynamics and electromagnetic research at large depth.

Masters projects can involve field measurements and data analysis as part of a larger project or as a separate small project, at a range of locations across the globe.

Facility with computer programming is useful so masters students in the geophysics stream who are not yet familiar with a programming language are encouraged to broaden their skills in this area by taking appropriate modules.

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Nuclear and particle physics

Research in this area in Göttinger is carried out within four research groups, an Emmy Noether research group and a junior research group, including in total around 15 postdoctoral researchers; research activities centre on high energy and ion beam physics. The high energy group is involved in several large experiments both in data analysis and detector development. Data from the ATLAS-Detector at the LHC at CERN (Geneva) are being evaluated with the aim of finding signatures of supersymmetry and further support for the Higgs boson, as well as advanced research into top quarks. Data from the D0-experiment at the Tevatron accelerator at Fermilab (Chicago) . are also being used for this purpose. In addition, the group contributes to the development of new detectors for accelerators, including the planned International Linear Collider (ILC), the upgrade of the Belle-experiment, and a pixel detector for further development of the ATLAS-detector. As the data analysis aspects of the research require substantial computing power, the group also works on Grid Computing and has a strong involvement in the Göttingen Grid-Resource-Centre GöGrid.

The ion beam physics group runs five ion accelerators with energies ranging from a few electron volts to several MeV. Research interests focus on the physics of thin films, nano-structures, nano-precipitates, semiconductor physics, optoelectronic materials and ion beam analytics. The methods used come mainly from nuclear physics and materials characterization.

Within the Institute for theoretical physics contributions to the stream come from research in quantum field theory and gravitations. This area studies the construction and classification of quantum field theories and develops methods of analysis and interpretation that are guided by considerations of symmetries and particle types. Further work deals with the conceptual and methodical extension of quantum field theory towards thermal equilibrium and non-equilibrium states as well as systems with gravitational interactions.

Modules of interest to students within this stream are offered also by the Faculty of Mathematics, both on the mathematical foundations of theoretical nuclear and particle physics and on statistical methods, while the Faculty of Informatics provides seminars on the topic of Grid Computing.

Masters projects can involve research visits to international research institutes such as CERN, Fermilab or DESY

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Theoretical physics

Theoretical physics research at Göttingen covers an unusually broad range of topics, resulting in close collaborations with all other research areas within the Faculty of Physics. The Theoretical Physics stream within the masters programme offers students the possibility to extend their knowledge and skills by taking a broad spectrum of advanced theoretical modules. The core introductory modules are Advanced Statistical Physics und Advanced Quantum Mechanics; the latter can be replaced if it has already been taken as part of the Bachelor degree. In addition we recommend for this stream the two modules Methods of Computational Physics and Advanced Computational Physics, which are taken as alternatives to the standard advanced experimental lab course.

The Masters thesis itself can be undertaken in any of the research groups within the Institute for Theoretical Physics, but also in other research groups with theoretical interests within the Faculty of Physics or the wider Campus Göttingen (e.g. the MPI for Dynamics and Self-Organisation or the MPI for Biophysical Chemistry).

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