Internationality in practice in Materials Science

International Master's degree programme in Materials Science celebrates its 20th anniversary


"We wanted to bring the world to us at home," remembers degree programme coordinator Dr Oliver Riemenschneider. International flair should be brought to the Faculty of Engineering at Kiel University (CAU) - this was the inspirational idea for establishing the international and English-language Master's degree programme in "Materials Science" in 1999. But there were also tactical considerations. Because the enrolment numbers for the Diplom degree programme in Materials Science had dropped, and businesses hardly recruited young graduates from the field any more. In short: the degree programme in Materials Science at risk of disappearing. "Something had to happen," said the Dean of the time, Professor Helmut Föll, to describe the situation back then. So four men got together, who in their careers had already gained international experience with Master's degree programmes: Professors Föll (Professor Emeritus since 2014), Franz Faupel (head of the Chair for Multicomponent Materials since 1994), Werner Weppner (Professor Emeritus of Sensors and Solid State Ionics) and Wolfgang Jäger (Professor Emeritus of Material Analysis). "It started with a bang," recalls the former Siemens engineer Föll.

A pioneering Master’s degree

In the autumn of 1999, no German students could yet sign up for a Master's degree programme, because it was not until nine years later, in 2007, that Bachelor's and Master's degree programmes were introduced across the board at Kiel University. The German students were all still studying towards a "Diplom" degree. However, the early introduction of a Master's degree programme had decisive advantages. The German Diplom students participated in the theoretical and practical courses of the international Master's degree programme. In this way, they could "benefit from the international flair of the new degree programme, and at the same time, take on the challenge of working with international fellow students," recalls Riemenschneider, who leads the Service Center of the Institute for Materials Science. One of the first graduates, Dr Mark-Daniel Gerngross, remembers: "Working together with people from different cultural backgrounds has dramatically expanded my horizons, and as the cherry on top, I also met my wife there." The engineer is now the SE (Simultaneous Engineering) Team Manager at Bosch, and in retrospect regards his choice of degree programme as a "stroke of luck".

Materials Science over time

Back in 1999, the requirements for materials scientists were different to today. The first mobile phones were available on the market, the Internet and the World Wide Web were still relatively new, and the technologies for renewable energy generation were not yet as popular as they are today. Even then, it was about developing functional materials for microelectronics and sensors. But the requirements for the degree programme have changed over the years, with the development of new technologies. For example, high-resolution microscopes have enabled material analysis down to the atomic level. Today, the degree programme also includes the development of MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems), biomaterials for biological applications (such as biocompatible implants for use in medicine) and renewable energy sources – taking into account their economic viability and environmental compatibility.

Facts and figures about the degree programme

This degree programme is small. Every year, 40 Bachelor’s students are admitted to the Master's degree programme, which remains international to this day. A particularly large number of foreign prospective materials scientists come from Southeast Asia and West Africa, especially from Savitribai Phule Pune University (formerly Pune University) in India and the University of the Punjab in Pakistan. Riemenschneider explains the popularity among foreign students as follows: "It has developed historically. The first foreign students worked together, to support each other. This had a positive impact on the fellow students at home, and so became an advertisement for our degree programme. In addition, the study profiles of these two universities fit well with our profile. Applications from these institutions therefore have good chances of being accepted in Kiel. So it has become a self-reinforcing process." An own study centre has even been established to assist the international young people, which provides them with advice and support during their studies.

The proportion of women among the students is also high. According to Riemenschneider, Professor Wolfgang Jäger (who became Professor Emeritus in 2003) toured the schools and institutions, campaigning for women in technical professions. With success. Female materials scientists make up half of the participants in some courses. Also, a disproportionately high number of women strive for a doctorate after completing their Master's degree.

By now, the degree programme has produced around 500 graduates. Many of them are very successful in their subsequent professions: "They forge proper careers. Almost all of the alumni find a job immediately after completion of the degree programme," said Faupel. According to Faupel and Föll, the high popularity of the degree programme, both among students and employers, is also due to the fact that besides the internationality in practice, it also contains a high proportion of practice-related and practical training. Zoreh Keshavarz, PhD, remembers: “This Master’s course not only gave me career opportunities but also life-long friends and my mentor.” After her time in Kiel, she lived and worked in Canada and the United States, before coming back to Europe. Now she works as a scientist and technical consultant for a Danish company in Sweden. Some of the alumni are now professors at renowned universities, such as the Turkish Middle East Technical University in Ankara, the Bahir Dar University in Ethiopia, the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in the Chinese city of Wuhan, or Durham University in England.

There has always been close cooperation with the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicon Technology (ISIT) in Itzehoe – one of Europe's most modern research facilities for microelectronics and microsystems technology. And since the beginning of the Master's degree programme in Materials Science, there has also been close cooperation with the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht Centre for Materials and Coastal Research (HZG), with its priority research areas in materials and coastal research.

Degree programmes on offer develop further

A new feature since the 20th anniversary is the link to a business education: in the "Master Materials Science and Business Administration", students not only learn what is technically feasible, but also learn to consider the economic viability of their technical developments. The new degree programme is a kind of international industrial engineering programme at the Institute for Materials Science, in cooperation with the Institute of Business and the Department of Economics at the CAU. The first students will be starting their studies in April.

The initiators of the international Master's degree programme
© Karena Hoffmann-Wülfing, Kiel University

The former Dean (and now Dean Emeritus) of the Faculty of Engineering, Professor Helmut Föll (on the right), and the head of the "Chair for Multicomponent Materials", Professor Franz Faupel, initiated the founding of the international Master's degree programme in "Materials Science" in the winter semester of 1999/2000.

 Photoelectron spectroscopy equipment
© Karena Hoffmann-Wülfing, Kiel University

Using the photoelectron spectroscopy equipment, the materials scientists can investigate the chemical properties of surfaces.

Students participating in the Faculty of Engineering outing to Hansa-Park
© Eric Lichtenscheidt, Bonn

Summer 2000: the first students on the international Master's degree programme in "Materials Science" who participated in the Kiel University Faculty of Engineering outing to Hansa-Park amusement park in Sierksdorf (from left to right: Nina Dempkina (Belarus), Rasa Staskunaite (Lithuania), Jurgita Zekonyte (Lithuania), Maxim Shakhray (St. Petersburg, Russia))

More information:

The international Master's degree programmes in "Materials Science and Engineering" and "Materials Science and Business Administration" will be offered worldwide under the title "KielMAT International":


Prof. Dr Franz Faupel
Chair for Multicomponent Materials
Kiel University, Institute for Materials Science
+49 (0)431/880-6225

Dr. Karena Hoffmann-Wülfing

Press, Press, Communication and Marketing Services
Department for Press, Digital and Science Communication