About the Open House Project
Lecture halls, corridors, the student cafeteria, etc., will all eventually become a ‘home away from home’ for prospective HSE students. We cordially invite you to a virtual tour of HSE. Current HSE students show you around campus through our website.
Students in the Faculty of Physics, one of the newest departments at HSE, will find a homey atmosphere, understanding teachers, and the opportunity to engage in science from the first year of studies. Physics students Arslan Galiullin (2nd year) and Sofia Lopatina (1st year) will be our guides for this instalment of the Open House project.
Address: 21/4 Staraya Basmannaya Ulitsa, bldg. 5
Location: About a 15-minute walk from Kurskaya metro station.
In 2017, the first students were enrolled in the degree programmes offered by the Physics Faculty. The Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes opened simultaneously, but this article concerns only the Bachelor’s programme, that differs substantially from the Master’s.
Master’s students spend most of their time doing research at the physical sciences institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) — in cooperation with which the HSE Faculty of Physics was established.
Partner Institutions to the HSE Faculty of Physics:
- Space Research Institute
- Kapitza Institute for Physics Problems
- Institute of Spectroscopy
- Prokhorov Institute of General Physics
- Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics
- Institute of Solid State Physics
Bachelor’s students begin their scientific work in the third year of studies. In the meantime, they mostly visit the institutes as part of excursions meant to help them chose a future area of study. The main part of their undergraduate studies takes place within the walls of the faculty on Staraya Basmannaya Ulitsa.
For example, the study schedule is arranged so that students do not have to come to the university for the sake of one or two classes because many live in distant dormitories and spend a lot of time commuting. ‘They also try not to give us any early classes so that we don’t get stuck in rush hour traffic and can sleep longer,’ said Arslan. The classes are grouped as tightly as possible, leaving one to two days free for independent study. (This is primarily true of first-year students and for upperclassmen who have military training).
‘I can understand difficult subjects and solve challenging problems, but for this I need to immerse myself in them and not spend my time just getting to classes,’ said Sofia. ‘I can do a lot of independent work here. I was serious about my choice of universities. I knew what to expect here and that is exactly what I wanted. I have the freedom and can do what I want. We don’t have to study superfluous subjects. Each subject is linked to the others and we are given tools that we can use right here and now,’ she said.
Sofia and Arslan said that their instructors do not require attendance simply for the sake of attendance. In the first place, however, the work you do at lectures is evaluated and is an integral part of your cumulative grade. In the second place, it is more difficult to make up for missed classes than to attend them. Nevertheless, the instructors for the second-year courses agreed to have their lectures taped for use by those who missed the lectures or who wanted to listen to them again. Someone anonymously donated a video camera expressly for this purpose.
Are the studies hard? Although Arslan and Sofia are certain you can’t just ‘breeze’ through the coursework, the instructors ‘don’t come down on you, either’ they said. The most important thing is not how well prepared you were before entering, but how hard you are willing to work. ‘In just six months, those who came somewhat unprepared but have since worked hard have overtaken those who were well-prepared but have taken it easy since. It is very noticeable,’ said Arslan.
Late last year and early this year, two new ‘attractions’ appeared in the complex on Basmannaya Ulitsa — which the Faculty of Physics shares with the Faculty of Humanities: a new library with a co-working space and a two-level cafeteria. Apart from the assembly hall, these are perhaps the only public spaces available to the physics students beyond their Faculty building — that provides everything they need for study and leisure.
Students can hang out at in a special recreation room during the occasional break between classes or to wait out the evening rush hour. It has a couch, beanbag chairs that are good for naps, a computer and printer and an amplifier for an electric guitar that Arslan is assembling in his free time. People often play board games as well. “Food sometimes appears here,” Sofia said with a laugh.
There are no huge lecture halls because there is no need for them. There are labs, however, that are already equipped for mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity and optics, and chemistry and radio engineering. Students do lab work at the faculty building once a week.
Students assemble the equipment for their lab work from parts purchased by the Faculty. This is part of the creative process. It has a direct bearing on the outcome of the experiment and makes it possible to delve more deeply into the subject matter. Arslan offered this analogy: ‘Artists don’t buy ready-made paintings. They buy brushes and paints.’
Students start with a course in programming so that they can write the programs with which they will process their results. They finish their lab work by presenting their results to instructors. ‘You need to be prepared to answer for every word and every margin of error,’ that students said. ‘We practically have to present a full scientific report of what we have done’ in the lab, they said.
Faculty of Physics students are encouraged to start doing real science right from the start. Arslan, for example, has been doing exactly that — working since January 2019 as a technician at the Lebedev Physical Institute. (He cannot hold a higher position without a diploma.)
All of the Faculty instructors are also researchers at RAS institutes of the physical sciences, and some recruit students for lab work. ‘My science advisor, Alexander Kuntsevich, is one such instructor,’ explained Arslan. ‘Eighteen months ago, he suggested I try my hand as an experimenter. It is very important in your first years of study to determine who you want to be in physics — a theorist or an experimenter, and so I immediately agreed.’
Arslan looked around at the institute — ‘doing something with my hands and trying out all sorts of devices at the same time’ — and understood that this was where he belonged. He now spends half a day two times a week at the institute.
‘I prepare experiments under the guidance of Mr. Kuntsevich. I want to see a particular galvanomagnetic effect in mercury telluride crystals that theory predicts should occur,’ Arslan explained. ‘To produce the effect, it is necessary to apply a high-frequency magnetic field to the sample, and the sample itself must be prepared in a special form for the effect to be visible. I have already found the necessary glass cryostat. (Glass is preferable because the magnetic field would overheat the metal usually used.) We will use liquid helium to lower the temperature inside the cryostat. I modelled and produced a bobbin of the required form using a 3D printer, wound a coil of superconducting wire around it to create a high-frequency magnetic field of large amplitude, and designed an arrangement for connecting the sample to measuring instruments. Now I only have to prepare a sample and test the coil at low temperatures to make measurements,’ he said.
According to Arslan, this experiment has real scientific value: the effect has been predicted, but it has never been measured in this particular crystal. ‘So I will be the first to do it,’ he stated confidently. ‘Conducting such an experiment is very valuable for me: I will gain new knowledge and become acquainted with various devices, programs, technologies, and people. I will also set up my experimental platform, that can be improved and used for other measurements in new experiments,’ he said.
Despite also experiencing success in the lab, Sofia is more attracted to theoretical physics and plans to collaborate with the Landau Institute of Theoretical Physics.