Experimental physicist Florian Schreck is lecturer in the quantum mechanics course in the second year of the Physics and Astronomy Bachelor’s programme. In the Master’s programme he teaches courses on Fermi quantum gases and Bose-Einstein condensates, topics that correspond with the research from his own group.
As a child, Florian Schreck was already interested in science and mechanics, playing with electronics, building robots and participating in science competitions for the youth. Later he chose to study physics, because ‘it seemed to encompass most of my interests.’ While initially leaning towards a career in theoretical physics, a unique chance won him over to the side of experimental physics: ‘At my university at the time, I didn’t find the Master’s projects in theoretical physics very interesting, whereas there was a very fascinating experimental project about making the first Bose-Einstein condensate in Europe. I jumped at the opportunity, and we succeeded, and that basically started my career.’
To this day, Schreck is extremely passionate about his research. He even used to have his office in his lab, but had to move it due to lack of space and the use of high-power lasers. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking teaching comes second place. ‘For me it is one thing, teaching and research. There is no division.’ In fact, he argues, to be a good researcher, you need to be a passionate teacher as well. ‘These days, all the money comes from grants and an important part of the process is to get in front of a committee and give a presentation, which is nothing else than teaching. So in this system I doubt whether someone who isn’t a good speaker could even get the money necessary to do research.’
And so his own research is part and parcel of his lectures. ‘Quantum mechanics is very old. I mean, this stuff was invented in the 1920’s and I can’t hope to get super creative about the topic itself. But what I try to do sometimes in the Bachelor’s course is to finish my lecture 15 minutes early and then whoever wants to go can go – and some people do – but for those who stay I talk about what my research is about. And they seem to really like that.’
For the liveliness of his lectures, it also doesn’t hurt that he plays improvisation theatre in his free time. ‘Improv is a hobby of mine, and I enjoy the theatre aspect of teaching as well. Even though it’s not completely like making a show, the techniques are very useful for making a story as well. To explain clearly, to vary your voice, talk slower and to the point at certain times and faster at others.’
The beauty of quantum mechanics notwithstanding, Schreck thinks its important students have a realistic image of a career in research. ‘Some students, including the very good ones, have a romanticised idea of how research works. Of course there is beauty in science, but it is also a hardcore competition for money and resources. And experimental physics is hard work.’ On the other hand, he says, it helps that the field is very team-orientated. ‘You can’t achieve anything on your own. So you are always surrounded with other very good people to do and discuss everything with.’
Besides, Schreck concludes, if you’re enthusiastic about something, the long hours don’t matter. ‘Other people play computer games day in day out without eating or sleeping. It is clearly a hobby and for us it’s very similar.’ Different toys, that’s all.