Matej Stanič - graduate of the 1st-level study programme Physics and Astrophysics

One does not choose to study physics by coincidence, one must be really interested in this field. Why did you decide for this study programme?

The School of Science of the University of Nova Gorica offers study programmes classified in the area of physical science with a focus on physics, astrophysics and materials science. My interest was mainly in physics because you practically find it everywhere. Studies of physics are a great starting point for a career in very diverse fields including, for example, medicine. Even for becoming a pilot you need knowledge in physics, fluidodynamics, atmospheric physics etc. As a graduate of physics you have many employment opportunities, either in physics or in other fields of natural sciences, which includes physical sciences (that is, physics, astronomy, chemistry and earth science) and, on the other hand, life sciences.

What makes studying at the School of Science special, what did you like about it?

I liked the favourable ratio in the number of professors and students, our study groups were small, so we could have a direct contact with our professors. There is a big difference if there are 12 or 150 students in a group. We, students, all knew each other, at lectures we could go into details and if you didn’t understand something, you could simply raise your hand during your lectures and you got an answer. There were actually strong bonds among us, school mates.
Besides that I also liked the fact that the courses were organised in blocks. So we usually had blocks of three courses going on symultaneously. Usually two more general courses and one more practically-oriented course, spanning over two or three months’ period. In the meantime we had colloquia assessing our continuous work. So by working throughout the year you didn’t end up with a bunch of stuff to study at the ent of the year. The studies were very practically oriented. A graduate of Physics and Astrophysics at the School of Science can either decide for a career in science, as a scientist, researcher, but some of graduates work also in the business sector. It is very important that the students acquire practical experience and that the courses aren’t just based on theory and learning by heart, and that the students learn about the practical applications of the theory. We had various practical courses, such as Physics Laboratory. With the knowledge we acquired we’re very competitive on the labour market if compared to graduates from other universities.

Tell us more about practical tutorials, such as in astronomy, where you also had field work at observatories and other locations.

We had a course called Physics Laboratory I. to IV., and V. was actually an elective course. The syllabus of this course followed our progress in other courses. At first we did simple experiments dealing with mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity, optics, etc., while in the second year we were already dealing with the ultrasound and the Fourier analysis – how the sound is generated etc.; and, finally, at Physics Laboratory V, we carried out a real simulation of the actual researcher’s work and we even produced a scientific article. In the fields of astronomy and astrophysics we had courses such as Astronomy, Astronomical Observations etc. As part of these courses we carried out practical tutorials at the observatory at Otlica. Together with the DMFA – the Society of Mathematicians, Physicists and Astronomers of Slovenia, we set up telescopes there and in clear summer nights we could watch the skies, choose an object and analyse it, perform measurements, calculations and prepared a report. The School of Science also covers the topics of meteorology and atmospheric physics, so we also learned how to use the Lidar. Lidar is a weather laser radar which emits laser pulses into the atmosphere. These laser pulses, which are present in the atmosphere (e.g. in desert dust clouds etc.) return the signal back and with the help of the data on the strength of the return signal we could observe what was going on in the atmosphere. We collected the data on the day with the meteorologically intense weather conditions, with the Bora wind and clouds. Then we analysed the data, drew a 2D graf and made a complete analysis of the we weather Ajdovščina on that day. For a student of physics this was a very interesting and valuable experience.

What is special about the laboratory tutorials is also the fact that the students yet during their undergraduate studies have the opportunity to work with professional research equipment, microscopes. At other universities such measurements are performed not earlier than during one’s PhD studies. Is this an added value for undergraduate students?

This is a huge advantage of studying at the School of Science, as the latter is research-oriented and has tight links with the university’s research units, so the students have the opportunity to work with professional research equipment. So we did, too, under the supervision of our mentors. As part of the course Laboratory IV. we, for example, worked with an electonic miscroscope (its value is about 1.5 MIO EUR) and examined the structure of various materials. Such a microscope allows you to see a crystal network structure, and this image later needs to be processed with the help of mathematical tools and computer applications, and only then we can perform measurements such as arrangements of particular crystals. The opportunity to get such experience is unimaginable for students of other universities. We also worked a lot in the area of astronomy. The University of Nova Gorica is a research university, which is very internationally-oriented and in Chile it purchsed an observation spot where it set up two telescopes. Due to the time zone difference between Chile in Slovenia, you can, in the morning, in Ajdovščina, observe the hight skies in Chile with these two telescopes. This is truly state-of-the-art equipment and a great opportunity for students. If, for example, the students are interested in a research on a specific M67 galaxy, they can, with the help of the professor or mentor, simply establish a live connection with the station in Chile, where the telescope gathers certain data to be processed and analysed. In this way the users do not depend on databases – you can analyse the data you have obrained in real time instead.

Your study programme also offered a large selection of elective courses – is it important that the students have a lot of elective courses to choose from?

The Bachelor’s study programme Physics and Astrophyscis is intrinsically interdisciplinary. You first learn to master the basics of mechanics, geometrical optics, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, astronomy, atomic and molecular physics, electrodynamics and non-linear optics, solid state physics, elementary particle physics and matematical physics, for example, to learn how to solve physical problems with mathematical methods – these are the foundations. Besides general courses we could also choose specialised courses, e.g. astronomy courses such as Galaxies and Cosmologies, Astrophysics of Stars, Astronomical Observations and Astroparticle Physics. These courses primarily deal with the detailed topics related to the universe, while, on the other hand, there are courses which cover general topics in Chemistry, Biophysics and Computerized Data Acquisition – data gathering, the link between the physical laboratory and computing science – programming and, of course, Meteorology. Meteorology is a very interesting course. First we had lectures covering all the necassary background topics in physics and the mathematical definition of these problems and later a meteorologist from the ARSO – Slovenian Environment Agency joined us, and we got familiar with what a typical work day of a meteorologist is like, how the weather is predicted etc. Through elective courses the studies of physics can be tailored to suit your interests. Some students are more interested in the universe, others in atoms, physics, physics of atoms, electricity etc. The study programme is very interdisciplinary indeed.

Why would you recommend the study programme Physics and Astrophysics to somebody interested in this study area.

Studies at the School of Science are very competitive if compared to other studies in this field available in Slovenia. The main advantage is that you will study in a small group and have a direct contact with your professors. The professors are at the same time renowned researchers in their field and they can thus present practical real-life examples during their lectures and in this way also present their profession to us. Practical experience and interdisciplinary knowledge are invaluable – if students are interested in a particular field, they can join one of the research laboratories and take part in various activities there yet as students, for example take part in various experiments. The school gives a lot of practical experience and opportunities to cooperate with the industry. This is the right study programme for secondary-school students who are interested in technical sciences and in natural sciences in general. And even those who are not sure whether to choose this study area or not, can, after graduating in physics, continue their Master’s studies in so many fields, also, for instance, in economy or mechanical engineering.

Graduates in physics find employment in various sectors, including banking or insurance. What kind of jobs can they in fact get?

Physicists know how to apply scientific methods to represent and model physical reality and they are able to analyse large sets of data so they are very competitive on the labour market and we can find them working in insurance companies and banks, where they work on advanced probability calculus to predict the behaviour of the market and the shares. A lot of physicists are employed in the IT sector, too. It is actually not enough that one knows how to do the programming, one has to know the background of how the things and hardware work, they must be capable of analytical thinking. They also find employment in the academic areas, as assistants, professors, in education in general, as well as in telecommunication companies, in the power industry and in pharmaceutical companies, where they apply advanced characterization and modelling methods for the development of new drugs, in the area of chemistry, biology, engineering as they are also related to physics etc. Physicists also work as science communicators for reporting news about the latests scientific and technological achievements and for promoting public awarness and understanding of science. Another advantage of this study programme is also that you to develop the capacity of self-learning and quickly updating as science and technology advance, this greatly helps in learning new things and find employment in a wide array of companies and organisations.

Matej Stanič, graduate of the 1st-level study programme Physics and Astrophysics

Foto: Matej Stanič archive