Along with its well-known humanities and social science departments, the Freie Universität also has a number of science departments that, while smaller, are still very active. One prominent example of this group is the Department of Physics.
The University’s first institute of physics was established shortly after the founding of the University itself, in 1948. It was housed in the building that was formerly home to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physics, where Heisenberg and Debye had previously worked. Today’s Department of Physics was founded at the beginning of the 1970s, when the University was reorganized and underwent extensive expansion. At the same time, planning work was begun on a new building, to which the department moved after its completion, in 1982. Since then the Department of Physics has enjoyed an excellent working environment, enhanced by its location in the leafy urban district of Dahlem.
The department’s work traditionally focuses on basic research. Current areas of interest include topics in solid-state and cluster physics, biophysics, and theoretical physics. The spectrum of individual subjects covered ranges from physical surfaces and their structures to biologically important molecules, from mathematical models to the theory associated with new materials. The department maintains a strong position in particular in the observation and manipulation of atoms on surfaces. Another of its strengths is the use of ultra-short light pulses to track chemical reactions. The department is home to three collaborative research centers (Sonderforschungsbereiche) and individual research groups are involved in a number of additional areas and priority programs.
At present, 20 professors work within the department, together with their groups. Of the faculty, 14 professors work in experimental physics, five in theoretical physics, and one in physics education. Three other professors primarily work at the Helmholtz Centre Berlin and/or Max Born Institute. The department also maintains close ties with other research institutions in Berlin. It is furthermore active at the BESSY II synchrotron in the Adlershof district of Berlin, where it has its own beamlines.
The number of students currently studying in the department is about 500 and rising. About 20% of them are women. As a result of the extensive research the department conducts, the number of graduate students studying toward doctorates is also high, at nearly 100. The department maintains extensive contact with schools and established a special laboratory for school pupils in March, 2003. Specific teaching of physics plays a major role in these activities.