Category Archives: Non classé

Homage to Switzerland

There is a river running through the Swiss city Basel that is a popular place for a swim in the summer. The locals all have waterproof, floatable bags to store their belongings while they swim down the river but another intern and I decided to swim the river with our backpacks – stuffed with clothes, towels, and books – which were quickly weighed down with water. We dropped the bags off behind a tree on the riverbank and continued down-river through the town, with just our shoes floating alongside us. My time in Switzerland was characterized by these adventures. I was so excited to get out, explore and experience the country that my weekend trips were usually poorly planned and I almost always had to run to catch the train home at the end but the spontaneity of it all is part of what made my summer in Switzerland so exciting and memorable.

I arrived in Switzerland from Montreal on a weekend in early May for the start of a four month internship. After spending a day recovering from jet-lag I went to EPFL for the first time where I was met by Dr. Lamirand and Dr. Frajtag in the Laboratory for Reactor Physics and Systems Behaviour (LRS). The entire lab group was extremely welcoming and much of my first day was spent getting to know my coworkers over a few cups of coffee. At LRS, my main task was to make a 3D CAD model of the on-campus fission reactor CROCUS which is used for teaching and experiments. I went in without much knowledge of nuclear engineering but after several tours of the reactor and countless hours analysing the different systems for the computer model I learned a lot about the reactor safety and detection systems and I really improved my knowledge of CAD and finite element analysis software.

I really enjoyed the tight-knit work environment at EPFL. Every day our lab group would go for lunch together at one of the many cafes on campus and we would sometimes go for drinks after work as well. As they knew I was learning French they encouraged me to speak it as often as possible. If you are practicing your French I recommend finding a language tandem partner through the UNIL tandem site that matches learners with native speakers.

My accommodation in Lausanne was a residence operated by EPFL in Malley, halfway between downtown and the university. Living there was a great way to meet other students and interns and I highly recommend one of the EPFL residences if you’re in Lausanne for a short stay.

My summer as an intern at EPFL was really one of the best times of my entire life. I learned a lot about nuclear research and had a very fulfilling work experience, made some life-long friends and got to spend four months in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. À plus, Switzerland!

IMG_2125Michael Chadwick, McGill University

Laboratory for Reactor Physics and Systems Behaviour, EPFL

To Switzerland, or not to Switzerland?

I’m going to break with convention. I’m not going to devote very much time to sharing the narrative of my summer, nor am I going to spend very much time discussing my research. Instead, I’m going to talk about good reasons for doing such a program, and understanding what you can hope to accomplish if you come.

Let’s start at the beginning: who are you, if you’re interested in this program? Ideally, you’re a (recent) undergraduate, with an interest in research who thinks they may want to do a PhD. What can you get from coming? Well, you can answer the following professional questions for yourself:

  1. What is it like to work in a graduate laboratory in my space?
  2. What is it like to live as a graduate student?
  3. Am I cut out for the nature of research in my space? (E.g. for computer science, progress is very bursty – would that bother you?)

If you come with a mind to work, and get a bit lucky, you can achieve the following professionally:

  1. Contribute to some cutting edge research (and potentially be co-author on a paper).
  2. Impress a professor, earning a letter of recommendation for graduate school.

And regardless of how much you hope to achieve for work, you can definitely do the following:

  1. Meet people unlike any you’ve met before.
  2. Travel around Switzerland, exploring the nature and culture.
  3. Travel around Europe, exploring the nature and culture.

As some context, I’ll share with you my take-away from this program. I did some neat research on scheduling, made friends with people from the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Italy, Ecuador, Switzerland, France, and Belgium, all while exploring Europe. At the end, I knew what it meant to be a graduate student (even my lab forgot I wasn’t one). When I came back to the United States, I didn’t have to imagine what graduate school would be like – I’d lived it, writ small. The scenery is incredible: look at some pictures.

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And seriously, if that doesn’t sell you, just think of the people and places waiting for you:

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The work is worth doing, the places worth seeing, the people worth knowing, and the questions worth answering. You should probably do it. And if you’re not sure, or even if you are, drop me a line. I’m happy to chat.

Elias Szabo-Wexler, Carnegie Mellon University
Discrete Optimization (DISOPT), EPFL
szabowexler.elias@gmail.com

A Summer in Lausanne

I was excited to receive my letter of invitation to spend the summer after my bachelor’s degree in the beautiful city of Lausanne, working at EPFL to improve my research experience and exploring Swiss culture.

Coming from London, it was particularly nice to enjoy the scenic landscapes of the countryside, as well as the beach of Lausanne. I would often go for a run in the morning after hopping out of bed and it was great to be able to enjoy the rising sun at the seashore. In addition, my fellow interns and I went to CERN near Geneva and got to know how the most famous particle accelerator of the world works, whose popularity increased dramatically after the discovery of the Higgs Boson in 2013. So in contrast to Sheldon Cooper, I have been there! Later during my stay we went to the Gruyere cheese factory and the Cailler chocolate factory in Broc, where we found out about how these products are produced and got to taste different varieties as well.

I had the pleasure of working under Professor Stephan Morgenthaler in the Mathematics department on two different projects. One involved the application of stochastic processes to genetics and cancer development, while the other was concerned with robust statistical estimation of binary data. Fortunately I was not alone in my lab, but shared it with two PhD students. By the way, all you need for a Mathematics lab is a desk, pen, paper and laptop…

One of the perks of doing this programme was definitely spending time with interns from many other places, such as the US and Canada, as well as my housemates at the FMEL Rhodanie building, which is close to the Montelly metro station. As I spoke English almost all the time, I did not get to improve my French as much as I had hoped to, but fortunately everyday communication was mostly fine, apart from one or two awkward situations at the supermarket in the first few days…

Concluding, I have found this a really rewarding experience as I was able to strengthen my international experience as well as academic ability. My thanks go to the organising team of this research programme, my supervisor and the fellow interns I spent time with exploring Lausanne and Switzerland.

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Arijit Gupta, Imperial College London
Applied Statistics Section, EPFL

Debating the existence of Switzerland

At the time of application for this internship, I knew of two things: one, it in Lausanne, Switzerland, and two, they spoke French there. Despite the weeks of research I did on EPFL I somehow forgot to google Lausanne.

The acceptance letter arrived at the end of January. To my relief, I was no longer jobless this summer. This time, I was so swamped with technicalities for my exchange in Paris that I again  forgot to look up Lausanne (or Switzerland in general).

It was some time in April that a friend of mine showed me a photo of a brilliantly blue lake framed with snow capped mountains and told me she wanted to go to Lausanne. I could not believe it; I was going to be living there this summer?

Before I knew it, it was two months later and I was standing in front of Lac Léman, seeing it with my own eyes. After living in a bustling city like Paris for 5 months, Lausanne was like a breath of fresh air, literally. The bright blue skies with a fine crosshatch of plane trails brought out the lovely burnt umber of the roofs in the city. My apartment was located between UNIL and EPFL, which meant that it was nestled in a small forested area. Walking to and from work every day I would cross a bridge spanning a gurgling stream. It was tranquil and absolutely perfect.

At EPFL, I had the pleasure of working in the lab of Professor Jacques Fellay. For the last three months, I got to dabble into the world of genome wide association studies and nanopore sequencing of DNA. In other words, I got a taste of the intriguing world of genetics and the mysteries it contains. Coming into this term, the words LINUX and R were completely new to me and a couple of lines of coding might as well have been hieroglyphs. My supervisor, Chris, was amazingly patient and explained anything and everything to me with great enthusiasm, no matter what it was.

Outside of work, every weekend was booked with things to do, places to see. With fellow interns, we made the most of our stay. From hikes in the mountains and swims in crystal clear lakes to road trips to Italy and flights to Germany, we enjoyed every moment of it. Weeknights saw us converging for a drink by the lake and watch the mountains turn pink with the sunset.

There was a running joke this summer that Switzerland doesn’t actually exist but is all a dream. After all, there is no way a country can have this many mountains, cerulean lakes, waterfalls, emerald fields and picturesque towns… can it? Somehow, Switzerland is this beautifully kept secret. Where everyone I know wants to come the Europe to see France or Italy, I would come back to Switzerland in a heartbeat.

3 months gone… now it is time to leave and I do so with a sad smile. I have had an experience I will never forget and this internship has got me thinking about new possibilities for my career. À bientôt, Lausanne, tu vas me manquer beaucoup.

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Jennifer Lin, University of Waterloo
Laboratory of Human Genomics of Infectious Diseases (GR-FE), EPFL

I have found my second home.

Upon arrival I was settled with a lovely Cypriote woman in St Prex who would become my second mom. Here’s why. On nights out with friends, I would occasionally miss the last train back home and she will be a call away to pick me up, something that not even my mom would do. Also on days where I worked particularly late, she would prepare lunch and dinner for me. Though I lived slightly far away from campus, the daily cycling trip to EPFL proved to be great training for my mental and physical endurance.

I chose to join Prof. Jeremy Luterbacher’s group because their work on biomass conversion and renewable resources aligned with my principles. At the time of my arrival, the research group was in its infancy and that allowed me to participate in much more of the frontline research than most other interns can. It was analogous to being part of a start-up, and I had to contribute both scientifically and sometimes administratively. The first three weeks were the most intense and I literally went to work 9.30 to 6.30, went back home to do some reading and then slept. I have even been in the lab on a Saturday! My main research here revolved around stabilizing supported heterogenous catalyst by chemical layer deposition. My supervisors, Florent Héroguel and Benjamin Le Monnier had been the most supportive and easy going superiors I have met, teaching me how to use the myriad of delicate instruments from the ground up. I would like to especially thank Florent for his patience and his inability to get mad at people. Through my contributions, my supervisors promised me to include me in the eventual publication of our research; something that is most rewarding to a scientist.

Besides the lab, on weekends I have traveled around Switzerland and other surrounding countries. Within Switzerland, my most memorable place by far was visiting Zermatt and the Matterhorn. Even though it was a 4 hour trip to go there, it was worth it. I have never been to a place so surreal and majestic. It made me realize how lucky I was. The day visiting Zermatt could not have been better, a bright sunny day for amazing views and photos with the right amount of breeze to keep one cool. Coincidently, the rain only started when I hopped on the return train.

On the 5 Seenweg.

On the 5 Seenweg.

Of course Switzerland isn’t without its drawbacks, the high price of necessities and difficulty in finding an apartment can be a problem when considering living or studying here. In fact, my supervisor, a PhD student, has been looking for an apartment for the entire duration that I was here. He was visiting countless apartments and calling hundreds of landlords.

Earlier in the year I was lucky enough to be accepted to several internships and the internship at EPFL appeared most interesting to me because I got to choose the research groups I want beforehand which to me was very important because I didn’t want to spend the first two months learning completely new things and only have the last one to contribute. Moreover, I have always heard that Switzerland has some phenomenal scenic views and I happen to be a big fan of them so it was the perfect choice for me. After the 3 months here, I know I have made the right choice and I did not regret any bit of it.

Juno Castillo Siu, UCL (University College London)
Laboratory of Sustainable and Catalytic Processing, EPFL

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.

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

Research Internship in Lausanne ? Yes, Please!

I had been working with a Professor back at MIT for quite some time in various capacities and I was fortunate enough to notice the EPFL Research Internship info-session around the time he inquired what my summer plans were. It was a no-brainer at the time, and proved to be one of my best internship experiences yet.

I arrived in Lausanne June 1st and worked at the Laboratory of Mechanical Metallurgy (LMM) at EPFL for two months under the supervision of Prof. Andreas Mortensen. The lab focuses on various processes and applications of metal-material composites (MMCs) and my project was to simulate and understand the physics behind capillarity in metal infiltration.
Even though my project was largely computational, I was fortunate enough to do quite a bit of practical work under the guidance of PhD student Gionata Schneider. One of the greatest learning experiences I had during the internship was precisely between the interplay of practical work and simulation. A side-tool developed during my first week there as an analysis tool, was only used during my last week at the lab due to the difficulty in obtaining a clean-enough sample to send for additional tomographic processing to a collaborator in Lyon.
The lab had a great work-atmosphere too with various communal activities. From the morning coffee break, to having lunch all-together every day to lake-side picnics and barbecues at the lab I met a lot of interesting people and made good friends.

I stayed at student housing in Bourdonette which struck a nice balance between being close to campus (~10 minutes by tram) and city center (~10-15 minutes by tram). Admittedly though there were times when, due to the tram and buses closing early, living closer to the city center would have been more convenient for going out and meeting up with friends. I had the pleasure of having awesome flatmates during my first month there and was sad to see them go end of June when their exams finished.

My Lausanne experience was made even more enjoyable due to the numerous people I had to hang out with and all the available activities. With other MIT students I knew beforehand and other interns I met through the program, we explored Switzerland quite a bit with day visits to Bern, Lucern, Zermatt and  Gruyeres. During the summer there’s also a number of really fun festivals and concerts with the Paleo festival, Neuchatel International Fantastic Film Festival and Montreux Jazz festival to mention a few. Switzerland is also ideally located in Europe so make the most of it, I usually visited friends around Europe during the weekends and got to see Barcelona, Madrid, Lyon etc.

Finally, a word of caution: Switzerland is an amazing place with an abundance of activities to do but it can quickly leave you wondering how you managed to spend all your savings. I would say the half-fare travelcard is a worth while investment and even if you don’t end up paying it off (highly unlikely) it motivates you to go out more. Also, cook home for yourself or even in groups with your flatmates as eating out is prohibitively expensive.

Monteux Jazz Festival

Montreux Jazz Festival

George Varnavides, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Laboratory of Mechanical Metallurgy, EPFL

I arrived in Switzerland mid-May to begin my work as an intern in the APHYS lab under Professor Johny Wuest. I was very excited to work in a physics of aquatics systems lab because I had never done something like this back home at UC Berkeley as an environmental science major. I planned to work on my senior thesis that I started for my bachelor’s here in the lab thanks to Professor Wuest and my Ph.D Advisor Love Raman. My experience has been extremely challenging yet gratifying because I had to work with a software called Matlab that I had no previous experience with. My job was to look at vertical migrations of zooplankton through acoustic doppler current profiles in Lake Biel and assess what their movements were responses too. For instance, prey population response, solar radiation, temperature, and other factors. I worked in the field at lake Biel by deploying ADCP instruments in the lake, getting chlorophyll measurements in response to sun and moonlight, and gathering water samples to test for certain organisms at each depth.

My father is from Lausanne and I am a swiss citizen so I was fortunate to know some people who I could stay with during my three month stay. My first month, I stayed with some family friends in Morges. I visited many surrounding towns and got a taste for Swiss culture. The problem with living in Switzerland during May is all students are studying for their finals so there is little to do with other students. My final two months, I lived in downtown Lausanne near Montelly with my grandmother because she had an extra apartment. The experience has been even better because I have been able to meet other internship students nearby and the weather has been wonderful for going to the lake. Some things I think everyone should do in Switzerland while they are here is go on some hikes such as  diablerets. During the summer months there are tons of festivals and things to do near Lausanne such as the Montreux Jazz festival, the Paleo, the fetes de Geneves, and much, much more.

In addition, Switzerland lies in the center of Europe so you are a short train ride or flight away from a different country and a different experience. You can take a 11 kilometer boat ride across Lake Geneva and visit France all in one afternoon! I had a three day weekend while I was here so I took a flight to Barcelona and had the time of my life. Switzerland is definitely one of the most beautiful places on earth but it comes at a price. While here you will burn through your savings without even realizing it. It is best to cook at home whenever you have the opportunity because meals at restaurants can be 40 CHF easily per person. MIgros and Denner are located right by the metro stop at EPFL and have all the food you need at reasonable prices. Satellite is open until mid-june on campus and it is a great place to grab a drink with your friends after work. Switzerland can be either boring or incredibly fun, it all depends on what you make of it.

Diablerets

Diablerets

While In Switzerland

I worked at the Laboratory for Multiscale Mechanics Modeling (LAMMM), under the supervision of professor William Curtin. Since the LAMMM lab’s work is very theoretical and computational and requires a lot of experience, they usually do not take summer interns. I was honored to be the first ever undergrad to work there. At first I was a bit frightened that I wouldn’t have enough knowledge and experience to accomplish something during my stay but I ended up having a great experience. Everyone at the lab is really helpful and friendly, I learned a lot from each and everyone there. During my first week, I had a post doc sitting with me for almost 8 hours a day teaching me everything about “Molecular Dynamics”. I had almost no background about the subject, so they taught me everything at the lab. I learned how to use “LAMMPS” to make molecular dynamic simulations as well as many other computational skills. After that week, I started working on my own, helping a PhD student with his undergoing research, and whenever I needed help with something, someone was there to guide me. I learned a lot from this internship in terms of skills, experience and connections.

Since I had family in Geneva, I decided to stay there and commune everyday to EPFL in order to save money on rent. It took me around 1 hour to get to work by train, which is not bad at all. The trains are extremely comfy and whenever you’ll go to the train station you’ll find one going to Lausanne during the following 5 minutes.
Most of the other inters were staying at Lausanne, we usually meet after work and go for picnics by the lake near the EPFL sports center. This spot is amazing, you can swim, go for runs by the lake, play some beach-volleyball or play soccer on one of the best fields I’ve ever seen in my life (Surrounded by the lake and the mountains).

During the weekends, we travelled a lot. I went to Bern, Montreux and Gruyeres in Switzerland, as well as London and Amsterdam. It is a great opportunity to travel Europe during your stay since everywhere is close and affordable. The jazz festival at Montreux was amazing and I strongly recommend going there if you’re into concerts (not necessarily jazz, there is almost every kind of music). At Gruyeres, I had the best cheese fondue I’ve ever tried, and only 5 minutes from there, there is the Cailler Chocolate Factory, you can have a tour there for about 12 CH and you get to taste all their chocolate and see how they are made.

Me and some of the interns  during our visit to Bern

                                                      Me and some of the interns during our visit to Bern

Tips:

  • Get the Half-Fare card as soon as you’re in the Switzerland (Possibly at the airport)
  • Travel a lot!
  • Meet the other interns, they will be your best buddies
  • Don’t think too much about money and compare prices to prices back home, Switzerland is EXPENSIVE.
  • Make connections while you’re here
  • ENJOY

Tarek Gouda, McGill University
Laboratory for Multiscale Mechanics Modeling, LAMMM

Life after Switzerland

I spent 6 months in Lausanne, Switzerland working as a research intern in the Reconfigurable Robotics Lab at EPFL, from June to December 2014. Looking back at this time spent in one of the most beautiful countries on Earth, I find myself at a loss of words to describe it. (I’m an engineer, words are not one of my stronger suits anyway). But I can certainly share a list of very memorable experiences from this time.

1. First, the work – Working on futuristic, pioneering research about novel actuators and sensors and their applications in robotics and automation at a world class university. The casual and relaxed environment that is so much more conducive to creativity

2. Colleagues – My going away present from my colleagues was a post card with short messages written in 8 different languages. Yes, people with 8 different native languages, effortlessly communicating with each other in heavily accented English in a majorly French speaking part of the globe. Pretty cool, right?

3. Other interns – STEM students from over 7 of the top universities globally. Besides being great at their work, these people were a sheer delight to hangout and become close friends with. FIFA world cup screenings, music festivals, pubs, restaurants, hiking and biking trips, potluck dinners, let’s-sit-by-the-lake-and-do-absolutely-nothing-but-stare-at-the-water’s. (with a view like this, we really can’t be blamed for doing that)

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4. Lausanne – cons: expensive (It’s Switzerland, no surprise there), can get a little difficult if you don’t speak much French, places shut a little too early at times.
PROS: alright, here we go… lakes, mountains, old wooden tower, cathedral, fondue, hot chocolate, crepes, awesome public transport, bike sharing, extremely friendly people from everywhere in the world (EVERY where: from New Zealand in the far east all the way to Costa Rica and Hawaii in the west), music festivals, art festivals, museums, farmer’s markets and did I say lakes and mountains?

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5. Travel – Switzerland is conveniently small. One can travel across the country and back for a day trip with great ease. Trains are more punctual than the sunrise. The superiority of the Swiss infrastructure was obvious while travelling to nearby countries like Germany and Belgium! Every mountain peak and hiking destination in Switzerland provides a view that is purely mesmerizing.

6. THE FOOD! (one of my top priorities of course) – From a small Thai food truck or a Falafel vendor, to the finest restaurants and creperies, or even the vegetables, fruits, bread, cheese, chocolates, wines, milk etc. bought from a neighborhood grocery store. The food in Switzerland has a certain sense of purity, which resonates with that of the landscapes in the country, which makes it addictive.

Having always lived in concrete jungles, the bucolic charm of Swiss cities is spell-bounding. I must be extremely careful while planning my next trip to Switzerland: not keep it too short to be satisfying, but also not too long to be able to leave from there.

Manan Shah – Georgia Institute of Technology
Reconfigurable Robotics Lab, EPFL