What an amzing country

This summer, I went to EPFL as a Research Intern. And no surprise, it has been one of my best summers ever!

Working at EPFL has been a great experience. I worked at Automatic Control Lab under Mechanical Engineering Department. As a Mechatronics student, it has been a extremely valuable experience to me because the projects here are really innovative and advanced. From bio-robots to UAV, there are robots that you have never imagined. I believe that you will always find a lab that interests you whatever your professional specialization is.

Apart from EPFL, Switzerland is also a beautiful country to visit. Switzerland is not big and transportation is super convenient thanks to SBB ( the Swiss Train company). Its cities are also small enough to just walk around, including the big ones like Zurich and Geneva. And how beautiful is Switzerland? Whenever you pull out your phone/camera, take a picture, and it can me breath-taking.

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(sunset by lake Geneva)

If you are a football fan like me, Zurich is a must on your list. And in Zurich, you have to go to FIFA Museum. Here, the REAL Rimet Trophy is displayed.

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What’s my favorite Swiss city? It has to be Lucerne. Everything is blended well together. The cloud, the river, the bridge, the swans. Perfect.IMG_4223.jpg

There are also great hikes you shouldn’t miss. Pack your toblerones, take a train ride up to Matthorne, eat them before the lake. The experience will make you never forget.IMG_5061.jpg

Also, probably the most legendary hike ever, is the ridge of Interlaken. With the cliffs beside you, every move has to be careful. The view? Astonishing.IMG_5344.jpg

There are just too many things to name,. chocolates, cheese, chess and on and on and on. You have to be there to check it out. If you love to see it by yourself, I would say, EPFL research program is great. And do not miss it. This is life time experience. You will fall in love with this amazing country.

Maxwell

University of British Columbia

Third Year Mechatronics Student

Stuck in the Swiss Alps

So it’s summer break, and you know you should get an internship, but you also want to travel before settling into that 9-5, 20 vacation days per year work regime. Why not both? The best part about interning in Switzerland is that during the week you gain valuable professional experience, and during the weekend you get to travel Europe.

A lot of the other posts give great summaries and tips for this program, and it’s hard to say anything about work since each lab is so different, so I’ll focus on some of our hiking adventures.

Switzerland is known for its gorgeous mountains (second to its cheese reputation, of course),  and we had our fair share of hiking. First stop was Mont Salève, which overlooks Geneva (the mountain’s actually in France). The trail is a grueling 1.1km vertical ascent, with a consistent ~40 degree slope all the way. It’s well worth the effort though, for this great view of Geneva. If you want you can also take the cable car, but where’s the fun in that?

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Round two, hiking by the Matterhorn near Zermatt, the iconic Toblerone mountain. We planned a nice panoramic hike: cog train to Rotenboden to get a nice picture with the Matterhorn reflected in the lake, hike down to Rifflealp and over to Blauherd on the 5-Seenweg, a trail that passes by 5 mountain lakes (map). From there, we could take the cable car down to Sunnegga, and a cog train back to Zermatt.

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So we thought. Turns out the last cable car from Blauherd leaves at 5pm, and we got there at 5:20pm. No problem, we can just hike down to Sunnegga, and take the cog train from there. Except the last train from Sunnegga leaves at 6pm, and according to the trail map, we were 70 minutes away! So began an epic race down the mountainside to make the last cog train–if we missed it, we’d also miss the last train from Zermatt back to Lausanne. Hope was not in our hearts, but we ran all the same, suffering from dehydration and fatigue. Ahead of us was 3.8 km in horizontal distance, 300m of vertical descent. And we made the entire thing in 35 minutes, just in time for the cog train.

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Lessons to learn: Read the timetables! And bring lots of water! Also, be warned that the trails around there are at ~2500m in elevation. This means the sunlight is super strong, so pack up on sunscreen and reapply it often.

Not done yet. Next was Interlaken, and the infamous Hardergrat trail. The trail is “spent on a sharply defined ridge, with significant, even airy, drops on both sides, in some places, 1500 meters of drop” (info here). Excited?

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The full trail is 27km long, which takes around 10 hours. We only walked about a kilo along it, following trail 4 in this map for the most part, since we didn’t want to get stuck on a mountain again.

If walking on a foot-wide trail with 60 degree drops on either side of you sounds like a nightmare, you can still get your adrenaline fix at Creux du Van. It’s a nice pleasant hike that takes you on top of a giant, horseshoe cliff. No danger of falling if you keep your distance from the cliff, but you’ll probably take a risk or two for that perfect Instagram shot.

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Overall, this summer has been a great experience, and one that I would highly recommend. See you soon, Switzerland!

Riley Xu, Carnegie Mellon University                                                                                         Laboratory for Quantum Magnetism (LQM), EPFL

Summer Internship at EPFL

My summer at EPFL was perhaps one of the best summers I have ever had! If you wonder why, here is a bit of my story:

At EPFL, I worked in the Laboratory of Renewable Energy Science and Engineering (LRESE) and I worked there from July to September 2015. My project was about maximizing the performance of water splitting device, using sunlight as the energy source to form H2 and O2 as the valuable products. This technology has a very bright future in the next few years, and I am proud to be part of its development.

During my internship, I learnt so many things, both in academics and socially. From the academic point of view, I learnt how to structure my approach in doing the project. I learnt how to manage my daily timetable and split the tasks wisely so that I could finish the project in a very limited amount of time — I learnt how to multitask. I had the chance to use some sophisticated laboratory equipment such as Scanning Electron Micrograph (SEM) and Metal Sputtering Machine – to use these machines I had to enter a chamber called cleanroom and wore an “astronaut-like” outfit! But more importantly, I learnt that in research, 75% of your time is spent trying to explain something that you did not expect to happen in the first place! Apparently, that’s what science is about.  This experience will surely help me succeed my 4th year project in Oxford which I am currently doing – the internship seems like a head-start!

For my social life, I have also gained a very unforgettable experience. I had the chance to meet and be friends with brilliant students coming from top universities around the world – MIT, Cambridge, Stanford, you name it! Building a network and friendship with these people is surely something that is priceless. We had several trips together, once was to CERN, Geneva. The largest scientific lab on earth, a place that is second to none!

In overall, I would undoubtedly recommend this programme to anyone who wants to have a great AND productive summer. Not only those who have passion in research, but also those who are considering it. You won’t waste your time being here. The FUN part is guaranteed!

Cheers!

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Interns’ trip to CERN!

 

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Boat trip organised by the lab!

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Me at Lauterbrunnen!

Samuel Putra, University of Oxford

Laboratory of Renewable Energy Science and Engineering (LRESE), EPFL

My Summer in Switzerland

Last year, my friend came back from an internship at EPFL in Switzerland.  She was ecstatic about her time there.  So, I decided to look into EPFL as well.  And in the end, even though our experiences were completely different, after having spent my summer in Switzerland, I only wish that I could have stayed there for longer. I met amazing people, and I worked in an awesome place, the Biorobotics Lab, led by Professor Auke Ijspeert.  What more could one wish for from a summer?

The Typical Weekday:

Every day I would wake up in my dorm room in the Marcolet dorm complex (part of FMEL Housing), which is in a little town called Crissier, a suburb of Lausanne.  After getting a delicious, freshly baked croissant au chocolat at the local convenience store, I would get on the metro and be at EPFL within 20 minutes.  Often I would walk to work, which would take a little over half an hour.

One of the main goals of the Biorobotics Lab is to design biologically-inspired robots in order to better understand the biomechanics of the animals that they are based off of.  As such, a principal direction of my research in the lab was to determine which scaling relationships should be conserved when maintaining dynamic similarity between robots and their respective animal of inspiration.  In short, I was working with this guy:

PleurobotIn the middle of the day, the whole lab would go together for lunch at one of the EPFL cafeterias (most of which make quite good food).  A coffee break with interesting discussions would always follow this.

After work was over, I would rarely go straight home.  On some days the interns would get together and hang out on Lake Geneva.  On other days (aka whenever there was wind) I would get my swimming gear and go windsurfing at the UNIL dock, either with my friends from the lab or my Singapore roommate Rodger (see his post below).

The Weekends

The workdays were great.  The weekend was just as exciting.  This would be the time when I traveled throughout Switzerland and Europe, such as going to the Rhine Falls to see the fireworks celebrating Swiss National Day, or exploring Montreux, the setting of the famous song, “Smoke on the Water.”  We also had numerous picnics with the team.  In keeping with the American spirit, the interns and I even threw a Fourth of July party on Lake Geneva for our labmates.

Conclusion

I will never forget my time in EPFL.  I met so many great people.  I participated in awesome research and experimental work.  I went to new and beautiful places.  I just hope one day I will come back.

Stanislav Tsitkov, MIT

Biorobotics Laboratory, EPFL

Summer in Lausanne – Challenging and Fun

Since this blog is mainly read by potential future interns I will focus on trying to give you guys a few general comments and tips. For a bit of context, I spent a bit more than two and a half months at EPFL working at LIONS on convex optimization. I had a great time both in terms of academic and personal aspects, and you found a lab here that peaked your interest I definitely encourage you to apply. Here are a few pieces of advice you might find valuable.

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#1 Free time
At EPFL the normal working hours are 9-5 and you have weekends (and a few vacation day if you want depending on your lab’s policy) so you do actually have quite a bit of free time. For me a lot of this was spent on cooking (cheap, delicious, fun experience for me) but I know many people who basically never cooked and still were able to save some money. One thing I was really interested in was sports practices I could participate in. It turns out, that basically all official sports activities close beginning of July, but do not worry. There is an ultimate Frisbee club with weekly practices every week, pickup volleyball is always on and you can always just organize any other pickup game with your friends (or rent a boat!). Also, EPFL does not seem to have a swimming pool for everyday use, but the lake is pretty nice and there are many cool public swimming pools and water parks (!) close by. For the weekends I went traveling almost every day. I didn’t really have to go too far, there’s plenty of things to see in an hour of range. And at least once, you should go on a longer hike in the mountains. This might require quite a bit of planning, but it’s totally worth it.

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#2 Traveling
Half-fare cards, After 7 tickets, Eurorail passes, Supersaver tickets are your friends. You should spend some time figuring out which ones work the best for you. I recommend you buy a bike here. You buy it for a 100 and sell it back for 50. Although a bit hilly the area is great for biking. I especially recommend biking in the wine yards.

#3 Work
This is very lab specific. I had a very vibrant lab and had lots of fun (and made actual progress through hard work). When choosing a direct supervisor, keep in mind that some people leave for months over the summer and you don’t want that to happen right after you arrive. Luckily, my supervisor left for conferences when I could already work somewhat independently. What I appreciate the most, is that I received a tremendous amount of help and personal attention and I never felt that I was overworked at LIONS (as opposed to MIT). I am applying to this lab for graduate school starting next year.

#4 Food
Food is expensive, even on campus cafeterias for my taste. On the other hand cooking for yourself is actually quite cheap. Especially if you go Monday morning to Denner when they put %50 tags on a lot of their products (which will expire in 2-3 days, but that’s fine). This is the overall theme of my post. Lausanne is a great place to spend your summer at. Your stay can also be challenging at certain points, but you always overcome these challenges and feel stronger afterwards.

+1 Arrival
Don’t schedule your arrival the day before starting work, especially if you are starting on a Monday. Sundays are very quiet in Switzerland (unless you go to the lake shore where everyone’s grilling their sausages), most things are closed. Give yourself at least 2-3 days to settle in, walk by the lake, meet your neighbors and prepare for unexpected challenges 🙂

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Gergely Odor, MIT
Laboratory for Information and Inference Systems (LIONS)

Adventures in Switzerland

My experience in Switzerland has managed not just to meet, but to exceed, everything I had hoped for in a summer internship in Europe. Let me preface my explanation by saying that I had already spent a year studying abroad in the UK before starting my internship at EPFL. When you come from the U.S., which is relatively homogenous, to a place where commuting is so convenient and the destinations so numerous and diverse, you take advantage of the opportunity to travel the first chance you get. As such, I had already packed my bags to see the world during my time in the UK, Eurailing from France all the way to Slovakia, and even flying to Turkey. So, by the time I arrived in Lausanne, I just wanted to unpack my bags, kick off my shoes, and unwind.

However, things started to pick up very quickly. Upon arriving in the Neurodegenerative Studies Laboratory, I realized that I would be able to work on my own project with the mentorship of a postdoc supervisor (shoutout to Dr Pamela Valdes for all her expertise and patience!). I was to engineer and clone my own plasmid of DNA to inject into mice, which would allow us to observe the aggregation and propagation of tau, a key protein involved in the pathogenesis of Alzheimers as well as many other forms of neurodegeneration. In all my undergraduate experiences in research, this was the first time I had the chance to take ownership of a task so open-ended, with so many design points where my decisions and insight were crucial to a successful outcome. I immediately jumped at the chance to do so, treating this project as if it were my baby (I do really call it that out loud sometimes!). Every day, I woke up excited to go to the lab to continue my work. It was like falling in love, only instead of writing letters, I wrote protocols, and instead of picking flowers, I picked colonies of E. coli.

So there it was, my summer experience in a nutshell. Or so I thought. And I would have been perfectly content with just that. What I didn’t expect, and was pleasantly surprised by, was how friendly and welcoming my lab mates were. Without fail, everyone took the time to exchange greetings in the mornings. There would often be organized group outings, such as aperos in the afternoon or, even once, paddleboarding on the lake. Lunch hour was sacred, and the socializing that occurred would often be continued over a coffee after the meal. It made no difference if you were a graduate student, a technician, a postdoc, the secretary, or even a lowly summer intern; everyone ate together and talked to one another, whether to complain about an experiment or share their weekend plans. There was a real sense of community. The diverse international representation within our lab– a reflection of EPFL as a whole– made our conversations all the more interesting. I formed fast friendships with another fellow intern from Mexico and a graduate student from China, and also got to know some of the postdocs really well, including Pamela, who is from Chile, and Nathalie, from France. The technicians were also very friendly, but oftentimes would speak together in French, which everyone except me understood fairly well. So, to listen in on their lunchtime conversations, I decided to hit the books. Although I’m far from fluent at the moment, I can certainly understand a lot more than I did at the beginning of the summer. Sometimes I even find myself laughing along to their stories and jokes!

While life at EPFL was already wonderful and fulfilling, I also got to know and love the city of Lausanne its surroundings. Travel is expensive in Switzerland, and I had no intention of doing another grand tour of Europe, but I managed to have fun all the same. The key to sticking to a tight budget is to look out for deals, such as supersaver tickets, and to visit the local scenery. One weekend, I booked a discount ticket to Turin to visit a friend. Another time, I went hiking in the gorgeous terraced vineyards of Lavaux, only a 10 Franc ticket away from my apartment. A third time, I hitched a car ride with some of the grad students and postdocs and went rock climbing in the Swiss Alps. And some weekends, when it got too hot to go outside during the day or when I was in a lazy mood, I passed the time reading papers until the evening, when I would maybe take a break and walk down the streets of my neighborhood, or turn on Netflix to catch up on my favorite TV series.

I am about to leave Switzerland and Europe for good, and as I reflect on my experience, I know that my time here both in the lab and out have allowed me to grow immensely. I’ve made new friendships, learned a huge amount of practical and theoretical knowledge, confirmed my passion for neuroscience, become more independent both in research and in personal matters, developed a sense of confidence in my ability to adapt to other cultures, and… well, the list goes on and on. It’s a bittersweet farewell since I don’t know when I’ll get the chance to come back, but before I step on my plane back home, I want to say thank you to Switzerland and EPFL for one amazing summer.

Rock climbing in the Alps

Rock climbing in the Alps

Visiting a friend in Milan

Visiting a friend in Milan

Hiking at Zermatt

Hiking at Zermatt

Montreux Jazz Festival

Montreux Jazz Festival

Au revoir, jusqu’à la prochaine fois!

Xueyin Wen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Neurodegenerative Studies Laboratory, SV LEN, EPFL

Work-Life in EPFL

It wasn’t until my final day at EPFL when it suddenly dawned upon me — I have been here for 3 whole months, and I am now at the end of my internship. Everything felt (and still feels) so surreal. As I reminisce about my summer break, I thought to penning my thoughts into this blog post.

Ever since I received my invitation letter to the internship at EPFL, I was excited for many reasons. For one, I have been looking forward to visiting EPFL (one of the best research universities in Europe) for years. But apart from the academic/research reasons, it is also my first time visiting Switzerland and Europe.

My weekdays were spent in the BioRobotics Laboratory (BIOROB) in EPFL, under Professor Auke Ijspeert. My task was mainly software development work for the actuators the lab use for their robots. My works are made available online on github, for anyone who uses Dynamixel motors! (Let us know if you find these tools useful!) I worked closely with my supervisor, Dr Kamilo Melo, with other labmates and the robots in the lab. Being new to the field of robotic research did not set me back; instead, I have learned a lot about robotics and animal locomotion from my three-month internship here. Dr Kamilo has been particularly attentive and patient, being always present to answer my questions anytime (“Tell me”, as he always responds). The lab community was also a friendly and close-knit one. We go out to lunch together (often as a large group of 8-10) and talk about anything under the sun, from our research to life in general.

In my weekends, I ventured out, visiting different places in Lausanne, in Switzerland and in Europe. Here’s a few highlights of my weekend ventures.

Despite being a small city, Lausanne has several places worth visiting. Within the city, there are some walking tours through the old city suggested online — try it! The vivarium and the Sauvabelin tower are also some highlights in Lausanne that I highly recommend.

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Trip around Old Lausanne

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The Komodo Dragon in Vivarium

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Sauvabelin Tower

In Switzerland, I visited castles, museums and, of course, cheese and chocolate factories. (Things not to be missed: Tours@CERN, Visit to Maison Cailler [Chocolate]) Getting to these places were pretty convenient with an efficient and comfortable rail transport system.

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Free tours at CERN!

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Maison Cailler – A chocolate house/museum/factory

From Lausanne, it was also pretty convenient to take high speed rails to Paris and to Milan for my “European experience”.

At EPFL, the internship has been fulfilling and meaningful. But beyond that, being in Lausanne has provided me with a fun and relaxing summer break. I guess that’s what one calls “Work-Life balance”!

Gary Lee, Stanford University
BIOROB, EPFL