Research and Life in Confoederatio Helvetica

When I first saw the address for EPFL on paper:

Route Cantonale
CH- 1015 Lausanne

I wondered, how C.H. could be an abbreviation for Switzerland? After some research I found that it stands for Confoederatio Helvetica. Which, still made little sense.

Now, after spending the last 3 months in Lausanne, I understand. The latin name preserves Switzerland’s traditions while giving no preference to one of the four national languages. Yes, FOUR national languages. I have learned that Switzerland is a diverse land. In more ways than one.

I have been working as an intern in the BioRob lab led by Professor Auke Ijspeert at EPFL on a project to simulate compliant robotics parts. I have learned an incredible amount from my lab mates about robotics and about work habits. When an experiment in lab interests me, all I have to do is walk over and inquire about the project. In response, I receive a detailed description of what is happening and its importance. In addition, it is greatly comforting to know that any time I am struggling with my project, I can ask someone for help, and the person who responds is probably one of the most knowledgeable people in the given field. And they will gladly sit and talk with me as if they had all the time in the world. Kamilo, my advisor, was especially patient. Though I knew full well that there were many projects he was working, I still always felt like my concerns and my project were a priority. His mentorship has been absolutely invaluable to me.

Besides work, I enjoyed interacting with the people in my lab as friends as well. There is a huge diversity of cultures represented in my lab. I’ve met people from all over the world with different languages, backgrounds, and interests. I really appreciate that despite all these differences, everyone is good friends. As soon as I arrived in Switzerland, BioRob invited me in and I immediately felt as though I had many friends. Besides having lunch, and post-lunch coffee together every day, I learned that every Tuesday the cinema in Lausanne offers two for one price movie tickets, so we went a couple times. We also went to dinner on some Friday’s at this great Chinese place, near the Lausanne city centre, which was always packed.

Another amazing aspect of being here, is the traveling. On a weekend trip to Bern, some interns and I were looking at postcards for friends and family back home. I picked up a beautiful topographical map of Switzerland from the rack. As I ran my fingers over the paper, I was amazed. I always knew Switzerland was known for the beautiful alps. But for the first time I was struck by the fact that the ENTIRE country is mountains. But despite this, the landscapes of Switzerland are also extremely diverse: Mountains, check, lakes, check, valleys, check, old UNESCO site cities, quaint small towns, check, bustling industrial cities, check, ancient ruins, check, rolling hills with wandering cows, check, waterfalls, check. And, all of this in a country about three times the size of Los Angeles County. This means that everywhere I want to travel was a maximum of a 4 hour train ride away.

In summary this summer I have had so many incredible experiences, both academic and not, and I have learned more than I could have imagined. I am so grateful for the experience and I believe I have made many life-long friends whom I will never forget.

2015-08-20 16.47.46

Nina Mohebbi, Georgia Institute of Technology
Biorobotics Laboratory (BioRob), EPFL

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