Work hard, hike harder

Three months have never flown by so quickly. From the first day I arrived, I began my busy summer of exploration, work, and adjustment to life in Switzerland, supported all along the way by my fellow interns and boxed ice coffee from Migros.

Let’s start with my lab. I interned this summer in the Medical Image Processing Lab under the supervision of Professor Dimitri Van De Ville and Elvira Pirondini. During my time, I aided the efforts of a largescale project investigating stroke recovery in monkeys following a brain lesion. In my work, I recreated a processing pipeline from literature designed to preprocess primate fMRI and MRI data. I also employed mathematical tools based on graph signal processing theory to find coactivation patterns in the resting brain activity. Throughout my work, I had to do plenty of literature reviewal, both to learn the theory behind everything and in order to solve the many issues that came up trying to accurately process the MRI data. The process definitely required a lot of creative thinking. But the lab was super helpful with any questions I had and it was a lot of fun to meet such a group of people with diverse backgrounds. What was also fun was being a part of such a large scale project. Although I lived in Lausanne, the lab was located in Geneva at Campus Biotech and all of the monkeys were in a lab at the University of Fribourg! I even got to go there and help in the collection of new MRI data, where I was able to see the monkeys firsthand. A lot of commuting was involved, but the costs were covered and the comfort and reliability of Swiss trains meant that I didn’t mind it at all.

Speaking of trains, that brings me to the rest of my summer for I spent an uncountable number of hours on those trains. There is just so much one can see and do in Switzerland. First off, there are plenty of touristy things to do. From visiting cities like Lucerne to wandering the picturesque vineyards, learning some history at the Chateau de Chillon, or eating cheese in Gruyeres, one can never go wrong. But there is also so much more, especially hiking. Although many things are closed on Sunday, hiking trails certainly aren’t and if you aren’t a hiker, you should become one anyway. One could spend a lifetime exploring the trails of Switzerland, getting lost in the beauty of the rolling hills and water so blue it looks fake. From a leisurely group hike up Dent de Vaulion followed by fondue to catching a 6am train and running the 25km Hardergrat trail in time to catch the last train home, there are hikes for everyone. Definitely check out the amazing trails of Interlaken and recover with a dip in one of its lakes. There is nothing like swimming in the shadow of the Alps. Regardless, it’s hard to go wrong spending a summer in Switzerland.

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Ronan Perry, Johns Hopkins University

Medical Image Processing Lab (MIP:Lab), EPFL

Improving solar cells for a brighter future (pun intended)

“If you want to change the world, even if you can’t, at least you die trying.” – Such were the words emblazoned above the door of my office at LIMNO (Laboratory for Molecular Engineering of Optoelectronic Nanomaterials – led by Prof. Kevin Sivula), which was the lab I spent my 3 months of summer at. EPFL was one of the universities I had always wanted to visit, largely due to its location in the French-speaking part of Switzerland (cheese + chocolate + views!), as well as their prowess on new generation solar cells. New generation solar cells such as perovskite photovoltaics have the advantage of being produced via solution-processing methods, which means a cheaper and less energy-intensive fabrication process compared to the standard silicon solar cells currently dominating the market. For my project, I looked at the impact of various factors on the morphology of quasi-2D Pb-based perovskites, and how the different treatment methods could affect solar cell performance. Working on this research at LIMNO led me to realize how lucky I was to have gotten this opportunity. The lab environment was really like an embodiment of the quote; my lab mates were all very motivated, passionate and eager to help each other out. Thanks to their welcoming and friendly nature, I had an amazing and fruitful time with my lab!

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Dinner with my wonderful lab

Other than the lab work, I spent a lot of my time in Switzerland hiking. Since most shops are often closed on Sunday, and close quite early on Saturdays, I ended up going hiking and sight-seeing at various places with the other interns. Although this has been mentioned by the previous interns as well, I would definitely recommend purchasing the Half-fare card as you can easily make the money back within several weeks. Also, downloading the SBB app is useful as sometimes they will have ‘supersaver’ tickets, which are discounted tickets for certain journeys available when purchased earlier online.

Places I would recommend visiting (despite the distance) are the Rhine Falls for the Swiss National Day firework celebrations, Aletsch for the glacier trail (before global warming gets to it!), Oeschinensee for the beautiful lake, Gruyère for the chocolate and cheese factories, Creux du Van for the ‘Swiss Grand Canyon’, Lugano for the risotto and gelato, Montreux for the Jazz Festival, and Zermatt for the almighty Matterhorn (on a clear day!). In particular, for those who like water sports, taking a dip, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking in Lake Geneva (or any of the other lakes) are all definitely recommended. Switzerland also has some wonderful thermal baths for relaxing in, such as Brigerbad and Lavey-les-bains, which are nice for when you want to wind down and chill during the weekends.

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Overall, I had a brilliant time in Switzerland thanks to all the fantastic people I met.

I’ll be back!

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Matterhorn, Zermatt

Narumi Nagaya Wong, Imperial College London
Laboratory for Molecular Engineering of Optoelectronic Nanomaterials (LIMNO), EPFL

A Wonderful Summer in Switzerland

   My first impression of Switzerland came from reading one of Einstein’s biography books. The greatest physicist ever lived, went to school in Zürich and worked at the Bern Patent Office, and developed his theory of relativity. Since then, the impression that Switzerland is a land of science was imprinted on my mind. So as an aspiring physicist, when I first learned about the EPFL internship program my freshman year, I knew I had to apply. Luckily I successfully became a part of this program in my junior year and got to visit this incredible country.

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   The project that I was working on was called “MuSCADeT”.  If you’re an experienced wine taster you’ll know that this is a very famous white French wine, and will probably wonder if my research was just drinking wine. Well I wish. It actually stands for “Multi-band morpho-Spectral Component Analysis Deblending Tool”. The basic idea is that when our telescopes take pictures of galaxies, the light coming from the blue and the red stellar populations in the galaxies are mixed together, and doesn’t tell us much about the composition and properties of the galaxies. So using this tool developed by my graduate student advisor, we could deconvolve the images into different stellar populations, which helps us better understand the structure and compositions of galaxies. For the limited time I had, my goal was to test the algorithm on simulations and real data, with the addition of a point-spread-function that serves to better resolve source objects.

   My advisors Prof. Kneib, Prof. Courbin and PhD student advisor Rémy Joseph are working in the Geneva Observatory associated with EPFL, which was where I worked over the summer. Public transportation was the biggest challenge for me due to the secluded location of the observatory. But on the other hand, it was also very serene and picturesque, which helped me concentrate at work and also relax off work. Though I didn’t get many chances to talk to Prof. Kneib who oversees most of the researches, Rémy was more than helpful. The project was very well thought out, and I was given various useful resources and recommendations along the way. My colleagues were also very kind, I joined a group of people who gathered on every Friday to play football, which was great fun and also helped me fit in and and make friends.

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   While I didn’t commute often during weekdays, I took the time to explore the country and the countries surrounding Switzerland over the weekend. The cities were incredibly lively with all the music festivals and wine tasting events; the hiking trails and the mountain views in Switzerland were some of the most beautiful and magnificent I’ve seen. Public transportation within the country and between Schengen states were very convenient, which enabled me to visit Zürich, Paris, Venice and Barcelona over the weekends without much haste. Switzerland is a place where work-life balance comes naturally, because even just resting alone by the beach, you’ll never bore yourself with the beautiful sights in front of you.

 

Minghan Chen

Carnegie Mellon University

Laboratory of Astrophysics, EPFL

To the Land of Cheese and Chocolate – and Science!

After living, studying, and working in Lausanne for 8 months (on two separate occasions), I consider the city of Lausanne as a second home. In 2016, I had the opportunity of studying abroad for one semester of my undergraduate degree at the Université de Lausanne. Evidently, these five months in Lausanne weren’t enough for me. The international research internship offered by EPFL seemed like the perfect opportunity to revisit a sentimental city, while working on cutting edge scientific research in my field of interest.

For my research, I worked in the Laboratory of Environmental Biotechnology (LBE) under the supervision of Dr. Julien Maillard and Professor Christof Holliger. LBE works on dehalorespiring bacteria such as Dehalobacter and Desulfitobacterium – bacteria that are able to use certain chlorinated environmental pollutants, such as tetrachloroethene (PCE), for growth and energy. My project was focused on presumed chaperone proteins, specifically flavin-transferases (Ftp), involved in the electron transport chain of Desulfitobacterium. The two aspects to this project were (1) to measure transcription levels of ftp genes in Desulfitobacterium under various growth conditions, and (2) to develop an assay to characterize the Ftp proteins biochemically.

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One of my first SDS-PAGE gels

I was lucky to be working on a project I am passionate about, and with an extremely hands-on supervisor. My technical lab skills skyrocketed in these three months thanks to helpful guidance, and good facilities. My lab was a friendly and positive environment, however upon arrival I was surprised to find out that everyone in my lab was French/Swiss – which is quite rare for an international institution such as EPFL. My supervisor was fluent in English, so work was carried out primarily in English, while social events were in French. Fortunately I speak French, however having never worked outside of Anglophone-Canada, the initial culture/language barrier was a bit of a shock. Regardless, it was an enormous learning experience to work in a new culture and language, both on an academic and personal level.

Now for the “life” part. One thing I appreciate about the Swiss/European lifestyle is their ability to separate work life from home life – something that is often overlooked in North America. This allowed us interns to thoroughly enjoy our evenings and weekends. For any future interns, here is a list of must-do’s when living in Lausanne:

  • Swim in the lake – as much as you can!!
  • Rent a pédalo
  • Have a BBQ by the lake
  • Participate in Tandem to learn/improve your French, and meet locals – tandem is a program offered by UNIL/EPFL where you can find partner students that want to learn your native language, and that are willing to help you learn theirs
  • Hike! Hiking in Switzerland is majestic (potentially more majestic than the Canadian rockies :O ). You’ll cross herds of cows and sheep mid-mountain, and most hikes are above the tree-line, so you can see the vast mountain ranges for days
  • Do an overnight hike and stay in a mountain hut
  • Tour the wineries in Lavaux – participate in les Caves Ouvertes if possible!
  • Try a via feratta
  • Raclette, fondu, and chocolate! – take advantage while you can!!
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Sunset on Lake Geneva (taken from la Jetée de la Compagnie)

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Hike around Lake Oeschinensee

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Home-style raclette and wine night with interns

Overall, Lausanne is a calm, beautiful city, with a ‘joie de vivre’ atmosphere. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity of working and learning at such an esteemed school, while living in such a friendly and picturesque country. Without a doubt, I would go back in a heartbeat.

Until next time Lausanne,

Isabel Jankowski, University of British Columbia

Laboratory of Environmental Biotechnology (LBE), EPFL

The Hills are Alive

I have dreamed of visiting Switzerland since I discovered that The Sound of Music was filmed there in sixth grade. The endless, rolling hills, the majestic snow-capped peaks–even as an 11-year old, I couldn’t conceive there to be any other place in the world quite as stunning. By the time I received my internship acceptance letter nine years later, I had set tremendous expectations for my time in Switzerland. The research, the people, and the mountains I experienced this past summer, however, simply surpassed them all.

To start off: my research. My internship was in the Powder Technology Laboratory, under the supervision of Dr. Irena Milosevic and Professor Heinrich Hofmann. I worked on two projects, the first of which was measuring hyperthermia of iron-oxide loaded injectable implants to find an optimal heating formulation. My results were handed off for in vivo studies, with the ultimate goal of attaining more effective use of hyperthermia in cancer therapy. My second project involved physical and chemical characterization of bisphosphonate coated iron-oxide nanoparticles to investigate their potential as a multifunctional nanoplatform for cancer theranostics. Like much of wet-lab research, the labwork sometimes felt mundane or repetitive, but it was incredible to work with such state-of-the-art equipment and to know the impact my research could eventually have.

Next, the people. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Professor Hofmann and others in my lab. They showed such evident passion for the projects they poured their time and effort into, yet often made time to have coffee or barbecue together, and to make me feel welcome and supported. Similarly, other interns I met were fascinatingly invested in whatever they studied, whether it be astrophysics or microbiology, but were so friendly and easy to explore the region with. Taking an overnight train to Berlin, windsurfing on Lake Geneva, having homemade fondue nights, hiking in the alps–there was always someone up for the adventure.

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And finally, this leads us to the mountains. In the 2.5 months of my internship, convenient transportation in Europe allowed me to travel to Paris, Zurich, Bern, Milan, and a myriad of other cities. While I truly appreciated the opportunities to see so much history and culture, nothing can beat the time that I spent in the Swiss Alps. During weekends that I spent surrounded by snow in the Jungfrau region, backpacking with a fantastic view of the Matterhorn, or climbing a via ferrata to a chorus of cowbells, I said the word ‘wow’ unsarcastically far more times than I’m willing to admit because every turn and summit revealed view after astounding view.

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An internship abroad inevitably comes with its fair share of trials. For me, it was troubleshooting problems while my supervisor was gone for five weeks, managing the time difference between Switzerland and California, adjusting to living completely independently, and trying not to eat too much chocolate. These, however, only served to give me a touch of reality in a summer otherwise filled with dreams come true.

 

 

Life, Study and Work in Switzerland: A Sweet Mid-Summer Dream

Between June and August, I was part of the EPFL Research Internship Program. At the time, I was studying physics at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, United States of America. Specifically, I was doing research on Computational Condensed Matter Physics at Institute of Theoretical Physics of EPFL, being advised by Prof. Oleg Yazyev. It was also the first time I have been to Switzerland and everything I have experienced in the past two months becomes my virgin memories of this beautiful country. Retrospecting, I feel so lucky of having such thorough experience as my first encounter. In the rest of the article, I am going to share my impression of Switzerland in three aspects: life, study and work.

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Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen, Bern

 

Life:

My first day in Lausanne did not go as easy as I had expected. Being completely new to the city, I was at a loss at the very beginning. Everyone speaks a different language than I  speak back in the US. Although I’ve had quite many study on French, such a first-handed and immersive francophone environment still made me so nervous. Luckily, I quickly realized how good at English the Swiss people are, which reduced my anxiousness lot.

It did not take a very long time before I totally forgot about the discomfort of my first day, especially when I realized how convenient the public transit of Lausanne is. My living place was only ten minutes’ walking distance to the Metro station, as well as the train station, which literally enable me to visit any town in Switzerland as I pleased. Thanks to such well-developed transit systems, I managed to travel to lots of places in Switzerland, such as Zürich, Bern and Geneva.

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Rheinfall

Study & Work:

The moment I stepped off the Metro station of EPFL, I was attracted by the intellectual mural paintings on the entrance of the campus: I saw endless famous mathematical for physics formulas being painted on the underground tunnel leading to the entrance of the campus. Even before entering the campus, I could already feel the devotedness of this polytechnic university towards the study of science and technology. The architecture of the campus is a combination of modernism and utilitarianism, which reminds me of the young age of this institute.

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My interaction with the research group went along pretty well. The enthusiastic welcome from my advising professor and his secretary made me feel so warm and helped me so much with my settling down to the new study and working environment. The research group I was working with is the one of international compositions. I met with people coming from at least five different countries, some in Europe, some at the other side of the world. From this, I could catch a glimpse of the extent of international participation of Switzerland in academia, a feature that renders this country competitive in the world for decades.

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Map of Rolex Learning Center

 

Ziheng Cai, Carnegie Mellon University

Institute of Theoretical Physics (ITP), EPFL

 

Research and Raclette: A Superb Swiss Summer

Between May and August of 2016, I was a part of the EPFL Research Internship (RI) Program. At the time, I had just finished the third year of Mechanical Engineering at the University of British Columbia. I had never been to Europe before, so I was both excited and nervous for the opportunity to work abroad. Looking back, my time there ended up being one of the best times of my life, and to summarize, I’ve included a list of the top five things I found about Switzerland, the RI program, and life in general.

Number 5 – The Infrastructure

One of the nicest things about Switzerland, and Europe really, was the efficiency of their transportation systems. Despite living quite far from EPFL, my commute was under 25 minutes thanks to some conveniently located Metro stops. Outside of Lausanne, the trains were both a feasible and affordable way to get across the country on the weekends. In terms of passes, I highly recommend buying the annual SBB Demi-Tarif (Half-Fare Card), the annual SBB Track 7 card, and the 3-month Mobilis pass. These were pricy to pay for up front, but I think I made my money back within the first month.

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Lausanne-Gare Train Station

Number 4 – The Culture

Having taken French in elementary and high school, I was eager to see what it would be like to be immersed in a French-speaking city. Naturally, I was extremely rusty, which made things difficult at the start when trying to get my housing, cell phone, transit passes, internet, and food situations organized. Eventually though, things went much more smoothly and I was running errands without too much difficulty. Beyond the language, it was really interesting to notice just how much people valued their healthy eating, hiking, and of course, soccer (or football, sorry). All of these factors helped make Lausanne feel so unique.

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Place de la Riponne, Lausanne

Number 3 – The Work

At EPFL, I worked in the Biorobotics Laboratory under the supervision of Dr. Auke Jan Ijspeert. As someone who is interested in both biology and robotics, I couldn’t have picked a better lab placement to suit my academic interests. I got to work with really cool cheetah and salamander robots and the workplace was filled with super friendly and knowledgeable researchers. I always appreciated that, within my work, it felt like there was always someone I could ask when I was struggling on a problem or wanted to learn something new entirely.

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Cheetah-cub looking good as always

Number 2 – The Scenery

My hometown is known for its mountains, forests, and rivers, and boasts some very impressive trails, many of which I have been lucky enough to hike over the years. Perhaps I had just become accustomed to the nature back home, but nothing I had seen previously could compare to the magnificence and splendor of hiking through the Swiss Alps. I tried to get outdoors as much as possible just to see the country and the mountains for what they are, and would recommend any potential visitor to do the same. There were so many panoramic trails and views, but if I had to choose, my favourites would be in the Engelberg, Zermatt, Interlaken, and Ziegelbrucke regions.

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Hiking Mt. Titlis, Engelberg

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Hiking near the Matterhorn, Zermatt

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Hiking the Hardergrat, Interlaken

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Hiking in Ziegelbrucke

Number 1 – The People

Last but not least, the best part of my adventure in Switzerland was the people I met there. Doing this internship alone would have still been great, but being able to have this experience alongside a dozen other interns from across the world was something else entirely. I loved having people to explore and adventure with on the weekends, play foosball with at lunch, watch Game of Thrones with every Monday, or to just chill out by the lake in the evenings after work. While my time in Switzerland lasted only three months, I know that the memories we made together will last a lot longer.

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Awe, look at us!

Cheers, Switzerland. It’s been fun.

Jonathan Marr, University of British Columbia

Biorobotics Laboratory, EPFL