In the 20th century the Astronomer Max Wolf and the Nobel laureates Philip Lenard, Walther Bothe and Hans Jensen built up the wide spectrum of physics researched in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in Heidelberg today. Research topics lie both in fundamental physics as well as in the application of physical methods to problems in related areas. Particle physics, encompassing high energy physics, heavy ion physics, atomic physics and neutron physics aims at examining the fundamental entities in nature and unterstanding their interactions with one another.
When many particles interact, collective effects arise, which lead to the plethora of different materials that surround us; their complex forms are the subject of condensed matter physics. In the fields of astronomy and astrophysics, one enters the cosmos and attempts to answer the questions surrounding the development of the universe. These main research areas are examined within the Department of Physics and Astronomy in four distinct institutes in close collaboration. Both their theoretical and experimental facets are important and research focuses on both aspects. The institutes are: The Kirchhoff Institute of Physics, the Institute of Theoretical Physics, the 'Physikalisches Institute' and the Institute for Environmental Physics. In addition to these institutes, the Centre of Astronomy at Heidelberg University unites the Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, the State Observatory, and the Astronomical Computation Institute to one of the most important centres of astronomy in Germany. Most groups are not characterised as doing only fundamental or applied physics - through exchange of ideas, the groups inspire each other. The large number of projects that are to be found in Heidelberg are also made possible through the large volume of third party funding that the groups in the Department obtain. This research landscape is further enriched by a series of programmes, in which collaborations of people from different institutes and departments both within and external to the university have formed, for example in the so-called programme on 'Special research fields' (Sonderforschungsbereiche) and graduate student working groups. There are many collaborations existing between scientists in Heidelberg and others nationally and internationally, for example in Heidelberg alone with the Max-Planck Institutes for Astronomy, Nuclear Physics, and Medical Research, the German Cancer Center,the European Laboratory for Molecular Biology (EMBL) and the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS). Within Germany, close collaborations exist with scientists at the heavy-ion reseach facility (GSI) in Darmstadt and with the German Electron-Synchrotron (DESY) in Hamburg; in Europe, close collaborations exist with CERN in Geneva the Laue-Langevin Institute in Grenobel as well as with numerous other research institutes worldwide.
The Department of Physics and Astronomy is one of the largest in Germany. Good study conditions and the diversity of fields in which research is performed make the Department attractive for both students who are just starting their studies as well as those who are at an advanced stage. Students may choose topics for their research theses at the masters and doctor's level either at one of the universities institutes, or at one of the surrounding non-university institutes, such as the Max Planck Institutes, provided that members of the Department are situated there. The mean number of years for obtaining the Diplom degree is 10 semesters (5 years). Heidelberg has the highest number of students that complete their degrees within Germany, Heidelberg is also leading with the number of doctoral students and Habilitations completed. The many research opportunities, openness and communicative style of working together with the special ambience that Heidelberg offers form a pleasant base for successful studies of physics and astronomy.