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DAAD Prize

On the ball - in the lab, on the pitch

Munich, 01/14/2013

He completed two Bachelor courses in parallel, has looked after foreign students, supervised tutorials – all in a language that is not his mother tongue. Now this blend of talents has won LMU physics student Marin Bukov the DAAD Prize.

Marin BukovA passion for physics, an uncomplicated approach to new experiences, openness to others – these are only some of the personal traits that have enabled Marin Bukov to win this year’s DAAD Prize at LMU, worth 1000 euros. DAAD Prizes are awarded annually by German universities to foreign students who have not only distinguished themselves academically, but have also made a noteworthy contribution to the wider community.

Marin Bukov has no German relatives, indeed no known German antecedents at all – and yet he has been interested in Germany and things German since he was a child. In Sofia, his hometown, he attended a bilingual secondary school, graduating with both his Bulgarian high-school diploma and the German Abitur. An intense interest in physics also became manifest early on. “I was captivated by the fact that physics can provide explanations for phenomena that are completely at odds with our everyday experience,” he says.  For example, he was fascinated by questions such as why there are such things as liquids that can’t be stirred, or can spontaneously “climb” out of an upright vessel, dragging all its contents onto the surface below.

The more he observed, experimented and read, the more he learned – and the more insistent his questions became. “There is a philosophical component in physics,” he says. “And many of the more metaphysical problems, such as those thrown up by quantum mechanical phenomena, have not yet been solved.” So it is no wonder that his interest in the discipline has never flagged.

In 2008, Bukov arrived in Munich to begin a Bachelor’s course in Physics. “I knew that there were marvelous physicists here, who work on problems that I wanted to learn more about,” he says. The idea of signing up for a similar course in Mathematics as well came to him during his first semester of Physics. “It was not something I had originally planned to do,” Marin explains. “It just turned out to fit in well, but that became clear to me only after I had started the Physics course.”

Mentor and tutor for other students
It is probably no accident that Marin Bukov’s favorite branch of physics is concerned with phase transitions. He is well acquainted with the exciting and often turbulent transitions that accompany the process of adapting to life an unfamiliar environment. This in turn led him to serve as a guide in the International Office’s orientation program for students from abroad. Marin meets new arrivals straight off the plane and helps them to find their feet in Munich. He also took on the task of supervising tutorials in his Department. “That taught me that there is a big difference between understanding something oneself and being able to explain it to others,” he notes.

Having completed two Bachelor courses in less than six semesters, Marin was in no doubt that he wanted to do a Master’s degree, and the program in Theoretical and Mathematical Physics, which is supported by the Bavarian Elite Network, might have been designed with him in mind. He particularly delights in the atmosphere of friendly cooperation that he finds there. “It‘s just like a school class,” he says, “we all know each other well and can talk about anything and everything,” and he is now involved in joint projects with several of his classmates.

“There’s always time for leisure time”
Marin’s days must be 36-hour days, for in spite of the demands of his studies and his other commitments, he somehow manages to find time for hobbies too. “It doesn’t matter what one is doing, there is always time for leisure time,” he says. On weekends, he devotes himself to studying the dynamics of a sphere with a mass of 400 grams. In other words, he enjoys playing football, sometimes just with friends in the nearest park, but also as a member of the team made up of fellow-students of his favorite subject. He hopes to finish his Master’s degree by the summer, and then he wants to do a PhD. He hasn’t decided where this next step will take him, but he dreams of going to America. - And after that? “I have no idea,” he says, with a laugh. “I don’t plan that far ahead. I just assume that everything will come together right.” After all, he has a very good grasp of the physics of phase transitions.

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