Blog: Applied Geophysics, Academic Review

GP4Since 2006 the IDEA League universities have been offering a joint master’s programme. The Joint Master’s in Applied Geophysics is a two-year joint degree programme offered by three of Europe’s leading science and technology institutions: Delft University of Technology, ETH Zurich and RWTH Aachen University.

Guilherme Weishar, class of 2017, wrote a blog about his experiences as an Applied Geophysics student from an academic perspective.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not represent the views of the IDEA League nor of its affiliated programmes.

In a nutshell, I would describe this program as a unique adventure that roughly thirty students from around the world get to experience every year. A two year long roller coast ride through knowledge, culture and friendship. I chose Geophysics because I have a fascination with the ability to translate nature into mathematics. Modeling physical systems using your favorite computer language (like Python) to then be able to predict future outcomes has a certain magic to it; a modern day shaman if you will.  To distinguish my post from other posts published previously, I decided to focus solely on the academic component of this programme describing each semester separately.

TU Delft, Netherlands

This joint master’s programme gives you a wide range of subjects to chose from in all major areas of the Geophysical world. And even if you haven’t found what your heart desires in the department’s pre-selected subjects you are also free to look into other fields.

In the first semester I challenged myself with a module called ‘Pattern Recognition’ from the Computer Science department at TU Delft. It just so happened that it was my favorite class of the whole semester, although Professor Kees Wapennar’s class ‘Advanced reflection seismology and seismic imaging’ exceeded my expectations. Professor Kees has a natural talent to explain complicated mathematical concepts that everybody could follow, however, Pattern Recognition remained a novelty for me. I always wanted to learn more about Machine Learning and this class gave me an excellent overview of the topic.

ETH Zurich, Switzerland

The focus in TU Delft was theory, but now at ETH we put this theory into practice. There were many modeling classes to choose from (mostly using MATLAB). ‘Numerical Modeling I’ with Johan Robertson is a must.  Even if coding is not your thing, you learnt how to implement filtering techniques and image enhancement algorithms that were only covered in theory back in TU Delft. Plus, most of the code is already written; with the focus remaining on interpreting the results. This was not the case for ‘Numerical Modeling II’ which was only for the brave coders that needed a real challenge.  ‘Inverse Theory I’ and ‘Inverse Theory II’ with Hansruedi Maurer & Andreas Fichtner were also essential classes to participate in. The inverse problem is at the heart of geophysics. The first module focused on theory while the second involved implementing of the algorithms in MATLAB.

The final challenge of ETH was the field work project. Two weeks of waking up before sunrise and spending the whole day in the rain and mud. It’s funny how with the right people even the most uncomfortable situation can become a fun adventure. I recommend reading through Mahfuj’s post, he did an excellent job at describing our experience.

RWTH Aachen, Germany

The semester in Aachen is the last one before the thesis. The idea here is to focus on the core area that you are most interested in (I have to mention that Sarah Sieber did an excellent job at organizing the plan of studies in RWTH). There is a wide range of classes to choose from and even new fields that haven’t been available like “Portfolio management” and “Economics of Technical Diffusion”. It was here that I had the opportunity to dive deeper in the mathematical modeling aspect that fascinates me so much.

I chose three classes from AICES (Aachen Institute for Advanced Study in Computational Engineering Science). ‘Finite Element in Fluids’ with Marek Behr, ‘Advanced Mathematical modeling’ with Julia Kowalski and ‘Numerical Reservoir Engineering’ with Florian Wellmann. These three classes complemented each other really well. Just like Kees Wapennar, these lecturers stood out on their ability to explain complex abstract mathematical concepts in a clear manner. I can confidently claim that it was in RWTH that I enjoyed my classes the most. Studying during this semester was not a chore, but a pleasure. During my academic journey it has been rare to see things this way, but the IDEA League gives you access to so many excellent lecturers that the odds are in the students favor.

To finish the Aachen part of this post I want to briefly talk about my master thesis project. Out of the 80+ projects to choose from, it was in RWTH that I found the ideal project and as an added bonus with my favorite lecturer from this program: Florian Wellmann.  The title of the project is “Investigating the Geothermal System of the Perth Basin, Australia”. The main goal is to solve the full heat transport equation in a 5 million+ model of the Perth Basin using Jureca (a supercomputer in Julich) and MOOSE (a C++ framework for Finite Element solvers). Even though it is still early in the game, I am confident that I will be able to present very interesting results in EGU (maybe I will write another a post about my experience in this conference, if I find the time!).


Hopefully this post gives a glimpse of what new IDEA League students can expect from the programme. Of course, your experience might be different as you will probably choose different classes but the overall quality of the subjects is above average. Before I finish, I want to give one last very important message: to everyone who is part of organizing this program, many of whom we have met in person; some that we have only exchanged a few emails with; and others who we haven’t had contact with at all, I want to say from the bottom of my heart a huge thank you. I can only imagine the difficulties of organizing this masters between three different universities with three very different grading systems, schedules and policies. This program has been nothing less than a life changing experience for me.

Guilherme WeisharGuilherme Weishar
Student Applied Geophysics
RWTH Aachen

Comments are closed.