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Martha Liliana Cortés Sua has certainly earned a little time off – after all, she only handed in her dissertation just a few days ago. But instead she is back in the lab conducting experiments. She talks about her research at Technische Universität (TU) Darmstadt and at the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research with great enthusiasm . Since 2011, she has been pursuing research in nuclear physics in the German city of Darmstadt. “My PhD is concerned with the structure of radioactive atomic nuclei”, explains Liliana (31) from Colombia. Her research could help us understand for example how stars and planets evolved.
Ideal research conditions in Darmstadt
Bogotá, the Colombian capital and Liliana’s home town, is more than 9,000 kilometres from Darmstadt, where she is currently living. Despite this considerable distance the young researcher decided that Darmstadt was the right place for her. “Few institutions in the world are as specialised and well-equipped in my field of research as the GSI Helmholtz Centre. That’s why I chose Darmstadt.” The globally renowned GSI operates one of the world’s leading particle accelerators for research purposes. Every year, around 1,000 guest scientists come to the GSI from around the world to use the accelerator for their experiments. “The scientific environment here is highly international and productive. Some of the world’s most renowned researchers work here, and I learn a great deal from them”, the physicist explains.
Many funding opportunities
There are also other reasons why Darmstadt is the ideal place for Liliana to pursue her research. The GSI collaborates closely with TU Darmstadt, where Liliana is enrolled. The TU likewise enjoys an excellent reputation in many scientific disciplines such as physics, as shown by studies such as the CHE Ranking. The GSI and TU Darmstadt spend nearly 1.34 million euros each year on funding scholarships and grants for PhD and postdoctoral researchers. Liliana initially covered her living expenses with a scholarship from the Helmholtz International Center for FAIR (HIC for FAIR). The HIC is a cooperative venture run by three universities in the German state of Hesse – Goethe University Frankfurt, Technische Universität Darmstadt and Giessen University – and by the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies (FIAS), the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research and the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres. Liliana later concluded an employment contract with TU Darmstadt.
Different career paths for young scientists
Graduate schools likewise offer young scientists good research conditions. The German Research Foundation (DFG) currently provides funding for 45 graduate schools in Germany – all of them excellent and internationally competitive scientific leaders. Other institutions also run special PhD programmes that provide young researchers with optimal supervision and support in their research work. The following is a selection of graduate schools and other institutions in the field of physics:
- Bonn-Cologne Graduate School of Physics and Astronomy
- German-French Graduate College Statistical Physics of Complex Systems in Equilibrium and Non-Equilibrium
- Heidelberg Graduate School of Fundamental Physics
- International Max Planck Research School for Astronomy and Astrophysics
- International Max Planck Research School for Dynamical Processes in Atoms, Molecules, and Solids
- International Max Planck Research School for Quantum Dynamics in Physics, Chemistry and Biology
- International Max Planck Research School on Elementary Particle Physics
- International Max Planck Research School Physics of Light
- Leibniz Graduate School Dynamics in New Light (DinL)
- Leibniz Graduate School for Quantitative Spectroscopy in Astrophysics
- Leibniz Graduate School of Molecular Biophysics (FMP)
- PIER Helmholtz Graduate School
According to studies such as the CHE Ranking, institutions known for their good support and research in the field of physics include
- Freie Universität Berlin
- Ruhr-Universität Bochum
- Technische Universität Dresden
- University of Bayreuth
- University of Duisburg-Essen
Young physicists can also gain an insight into applied research in German companies. Physics graduates can work in many different areas, such as in data processing, in mechanical and plant engineering or in the energy sector.
Meeting Nobel laureates in person
In June 2016, Liliana met numerous world-class researchers in her field at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany. Every year since 1951, winners of Nobel prizes in chemistry, physics and medicine, as well as outstanding young researchers from all over the world, have met here at Lake Constance. They share knowledge and experience and build networks. Lectures, panel discussions and master classes make up the lion’s share of the programme. “I met Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald in person”, enthuses Liliana. The two scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 2015 for proving that neutrinos – electrically neutral elementary particles – have mass. “Talking to all these people and learning from them was a wonderful experience”, says Liliana. As is often the case in the German research world, she talked to the scientists in English. Although she now speaks a little German, she admits that “the language is not all that easy to learn.” But as she adds with a smile: “Luckily it is easy in Germany to get by in English.”