Monthly Archives: June 2014

Weekly Lab Tours

The EPFL research internship places students in a unique setting, where the departments are extraordinarily interdisciplinary. When I first arrived, I began touring labs on my own, eager to find out more about ongoing work at EPFL. However, after conversations with other students, I realized that they too were interested in pushing the boundaries of their current knowledge. This curiosity is a characteristic of the group that I deeply respect, and in retrospect it could almost be predicted from people who are willing to uproot and relocate overseas for an entire summer.

From these experiences, I proposed a series of lab tours. Each week, a student leads his/her peers through an overview of ongoing work, giving the rest of us a chance to see what is going on outside the walls of our own labs. I am happy that people were receptive to these tours, because it exposes everyone to new information, inspiration, and ideas. On the flip side, it’s also a fantastic opportunity for the presenters to further develop their speaking skills and obtain a holistic picture of their lab. For me, it’s wonderful to see how diverse my cohort’s interests are, and to be able to learn about topics that I otherwise would not have a connection to.

Below are some pictures from when Manan, Jessica, and I presented the Reconfigurable Robotics Lab:


Jessica, describing how pneumatic actuators behave.


Manan, explaining his work on the rat exoskeleton.


Ben, presenting an overview of the lab.

Benjamin Shih, Carnegie Mellon University
Reconfigurable Robotics Lab, EPFL

CHolocate and CHeese ♕

Zermatt Hike with 4-Legged Friends

Zermatt Hike with 4-Legged Friends

The CAVE 3D video game!

The CAVE 3D video game!

After searching and taste-testing dozens of the Swiss chocolates, I have finally found the one. It’s Frey’s Supreme Vanille Bourbon (dark chocolate) found exclusively at the Migros grocery store, one of which is conveniently located underneath my EPFL flat. I must say the journey to this chocolate was not an easy one. It included scenic weekend trips on the GoldenPass Train to Gruyères, a chocolate tasting room, castle hikes in Ticino, a visit to the reflective lakes at Zermatt, and picnics by Lake Geneva. If it wasn’t for the help of my roommates that attend EPFL as students I would probably still be searching.

For a less dramatic taste, but equally engaging piece of Switzerland, I’ll share a little about my EPFL Internship program experience. I’ve learned more here in my month and a half so far than I learn in months of classes. There’s the additional benefit of flexible scheduling and getting to visit the gorgeous Swiss country with a group of new friends from the program. My favorite experience so far would be travelling with Ben and Kate to Ticino (the Italian region). We discussed a range of topics (including chocolate), hiked (a lot), and ate delicious Italian food. This chance to work in Switzerland is unique and made for the adventurous, bold, and academic student.


Morgan Jackson, Georgia Institute of Technology
Laboratory of Movement Analysis and Measurement, Immersive Integration Group, EPFL

On My Research


Like many in this program, I work in a specialized lab working on a specialized topic that even I knew nothing about before starting this internship (to say nothing of my fellow interns). Having been asked to explain the topic multiple times, I wrote a relatively short and understandable blog post on the topic, which I will only link to rather than copying the whole thing here. The work is about as research-y as it gets, dealing with exciting new ideas that are far from practical application but high in potential. It is also very different from my past work in robotics, which has made the internship so both more challenging and fulfilling.

Infromal talks with Ben was seemingly what led to the idea of a public tour of his lab past Friday, and I look forward to any more such tours or talks about the work of other interns here. One of the benefits of a program such as this is gaining exposure to such new concepts as the memristor, and I hope to be exposed to even more novel concepts completely outside my expertise in the next few months.

Andrey Kurenkov, Georgia Institute of Technology
Microelectronic Systems Lab, EPFL

Best of Both Worlds

2014-05-24 14.51.24

Besides EPFL, I think the thing that I love most about Lausanne is Lac Léman. My favorite part of the day is going home on the metro and looking out over the buildings to see the snow-covered Alps jutting out of its freakishly blue water. To me, the best thing about this city is that it’s seemed to find harmony between its size and the presence of nature. A mountain hike, a jog by the lakeside, or a sailing excursion are all readily accessible, which I think explains why I see so many active people here. I haven’t been around in the winter yet, but I’m not surprised when people tell me that skiing becomes very popular during that time of year.

All in all, being at the EPFL for me has been great so far, because I can do research at a demanding level and still stay interested in my surroundings. I think another contributing factor to this is how well-developed the public transportation is here. Getting places is not nearly the chore that it is in my old town of Pittsburgh, since a decent number of buses and trains actually exist in this city (and, in typical Swiss fashion, they are wonderfully on-time). I hope in the future I will be able to come back here as a Masters student; I am incredibly thankful for taking part in this program, because it’s shown me how much the university and its surroundings have to offer.

Jack Biggs, Carnegie Mellon University
Parallel Systems and Architecture Lab, EPFL


One of the biggest differences I have noticed between working in the US and working in Switzerland is the attitude towards lunch and social time. When I have worked in the US you come to work, put in your 8 hours, usually take a short lunch (often at your desk), then you can leave and have your social life mostly outside of the office.

In my lab at EPFL, lunch is an event. A group goes out to eat just about every day and it is a time for socializing. Conversations can vary from relevant science (such as the latest robot DARPA or MIT has), to the cross cultural (comparing life from the various corners of the globe we all come from), to the type of conversation that is inevitable among a group of lab rat engineers (like how to properly write a publishable paper on proving the number of slices a pizza should be cut into for the best taste).

Immediately following lunch is coffee, where you sit and chat and maybe organize events outside of work for another 30 minutes or so before finally wandering back to lab. Then if you are in the lab past 17h00, don’t be surprised if people start asking who wants a coffee break. While taking part may extend the workday, it is the best way to get to know your coworkers, learn about the area, learn about different cultures, and to get involved in life in Lausanne.

Laura Fleury, Carnegie Mellon University
Biorobotics Laboratory, EPFL