Studying Chemistry in Germany
An article by Daniel Kastner. Cooperation from: Gabriele Meister
That is what it's about
Chemical processes take place constantly and everywhere: in solar cells or mobile phone batteries, in washing machines or combustion engines, in plants and in the human body. In chemistry, reactions between molecules in nature are studied and reproduced in the laboratory. On this basis, they develop new materials, processes and active ingredients that are used, for example, in fuel cells, medicines or cleaning agents.
"As chemists, we deal with big issues like developing tests to detect diseases like Covid-19. To do this, we work together with medical doctors and biochemists, for example," says Arno Pfitzner, professor at the University of Regensburg and spokesperson for the conference of chemistry departments. Career opportunities are currently very good, especially in the field of sustainability, but chemical knowledge and the ability to analyse risks are also in demand in the chemical industry and even in insurance companies. Chemistry graduates rarely work in the lab. As a laboratory manager, however, you need to know how substances are separated or how gases behave. "You shouldn't worry too much about what majors are popular today. Degree courses and doctorates take a total of eight to nine years, and by the time you've finished, a lot of things will have changed anyway," says Wolfram Koch, Managing Director of the Society of German Chemists.
This is how the course runs
During the first four semesters, the students focus on organic, inorganic, physical and analytical chemistry. They learn what properties the elements in the periodic table have and how basic reactions occur. They deal with compounds with and without carbon, with redox reactions and acid-base equilibria, with thermodynamics and bonding theory. Mathematics and physics are also included.
Chemical experiments are often presented in lectures. Students learn how to determine masses and volumes, how to produce substances and which components make up mixtures of substances in the laboratory practicals. They work with test tubes, pipettes and Bunsen burners, use dyes and practice dealing with corrosive or toxic compounds. Students write protocols for the experiments in which they must describe the experimental set-up and procedure. Evaluations with programmes such as Excel or Matlab are also part of the course. Digitisation and Big Data play an important role in this. Starting in the fifth semester, students choose their own specialisations such as materials science, biochemistry or computer chemistry. Often they can then start their own research project.
Typical questions raised within the subject
- How do you determine which substances are contained in food?
- How can CO₂ be removed from the atmosphere?
- What is the systematics of the periodic table?
- What do the rates of chemical reactions depend on?
- What could a self-sufficient energy supply look like in poorer countries?
- How does a catalyst work?
- How does a metal differ from a non-metal?
The subject suits you,...
... in addition to a love of experimenting, you should also have manual skills. Teamwork is the rule in the laboratory. Abstract and analytical thinking as well as a good spatial imagination are just as important as the practical work, because molecules are three-dimensional structures. You also need discipline and mental and physical stamina because experiments don't always succeed and you spend many hours in the lab. The large amount of learning material can also a challenge.
Is there a numerus clausus?
The vast majority of degree courses have no admission restrictions. In rare cases there is a selection interview.