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Advanced physics for students of environmental and earth sciences

H.-A. Synal


Basic concepts of quantum and nuclear physics with emphasis on environmental and earth science aspects.


Many phenomena in environmental sciences can only be explained by quantum mechanical or nuclear physics models. This lecture course covers the fundamentals of quantum and nuclear physics and demonstrates the significance of these fields in environmental and geosciences by means of concrete examples and numerous demsonstration experiments


1. Part: Quantum Physics:

Fundamentals of quantum mechanics. Planck's law and its significance to the radiation balance and climate of the earth. Photo effect, material waves, uncertainty principle. Atomic and molecular physics: energy levels, absorption and emission of electromagnetic radiation, selection rules, laser. Fundamentals of optical spectroscopy with examples from environmental analytics.

2. Part: Nuclear Physics:

Structure of the atomic nucleus (nuclear models and forces), radioactivity (decay modes), interaction of radiation with matter, natural and artificial radioactivity in the environment, radioisotopes as natural tracers, dating by radioisotopes.

Materials analysis by nuclear techniques


Materials analysis by MeV ion beams. Nuclear techniques are presented which allow to quantitatively investigate the composition, structure and trace element content of solids.


Students learn the basic concepts of ion beam analysis and its different analytical techniques. They understand how experimental data is taken and interpreted. They are able to chose the appropriate method of analysis to solve a given problem.


The course treats applications of nuclear methods in other fields of research. Materials analysis by ion beam analysis is emphasized. Techniques are presented which allow the quantitative investigation of composition, structure, and trace element content of solids:

  • elasic nuclear scattering (Rutherfor Backscattering, Recoil detection)
  • nuclear (resonant) reaction analysis
  • activation analysis
  • ion beam channeling (investigation of crystal defects)
  • neutron sources
  • MeV ion microprobes, imaging surface analysis


  • radiation protection and health physics
  • accelerator mass spectrometry

The course is also suited for graduate students.

Laboratory course in nuclear analytics

(part of a master course organized by the chemistry department of the University of Berne)

M. Döbeli


Students get to know the most important techniques of ion beam analysis. They learn the necessary physical principles and become able to estimate to which kind of problems these analysis techniques can be applied.
In a practical demonstration experiment it is shown how samples have to be handled and students can perform their own RBS measurements. The obtained data are qualitatively interpreted and quantitatively analysed by professional software.

"Materials Analysis" short manuscript

Quaternary Dating Methods (Fall Semester)

Irka Hajdas and Susan Ivy-Ochs

Reconstruction of time scales is critical for all Quaternary studies in both Geology and Archeology. Various methods are applied depending on the time range of interest and the archive studied. This this lecture focuses on the methods that are most frequently used for dating Quaternary sediments and landforms i.e., 14C dating, Cosmogenic nuclides dating methods, U-series disequilibrium, Luminescence dating, K/Ar and Ar/ ,Cs-137 and Pb-210 and incremental methods (varves). Lectures are accompanied by problem solving, sampling of sediment core, a visit to AMS laboratory and to archeological excavations.


1.      Sampling a sediment core in LimnoLab Geology Department ETH

2.      Visit to archeological excavations at Münsterhof, Zurich Oct2015

Quaternary Geology and Geomorphology of the Alps

3 KP, 2 hr lecture per week plus field work days

Lecturers: Susan Ivy Ochs, Urs Fischer (NAGRA)

In this course we cover the present state of knowledge on Pleistocene (last 2.6 Ma) glacial periods and post-glacial landscape modification in the Alps. We employ practical exercises both in the classroom and in the field to build up an intuitive understanding of the formation and evolution of the landscape of the Alps and the forelands. We focus on development of the following skills: landform recognition on remote imagery and in the field; depositional process identification based on sediment characterization; reconstruction of valley-scale geomorphological evolutionary sequences.

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Fri May 26 13:16:42 CEST 2017
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