Monthly Archives: August 2014

With Europe being so far from North America and my country of origin I was expecting to do a lot of travel while in Switzerland and see as much of the country and continent as possible during my weekends. I knew that this would probably be quite tiring but it was the opportunity of a lifetime. I became slightly disappointed when I learned that traveling in Switzerland was indeed quite costly but my determination to get to know the area was still strong. From previous experiences in Switzerland I knew the weather to be agreeably warm and sunny during the summer and was glad that I would be getting a break from the Boston cold.

I was also excited and looking forward to working in a field that I was truly interested in. Despite the fact that I had preferred industry during my internship search but had actually ended up in a research internship, there was a very short path between the research being done at the lab where I would intern and its implementation in industry for real-world consumer products.

My Work

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During my internship I worked with lead halide perovskite solar cells, a solar cell technology that started growing in 2009. The perovskite material, CH3NH3PbX3 where X is I, Cl, or Br, has a cubic crystal structure with strong light absorption and a direct bandgap which is at around 1.55 eV for pure iodide perovskites. Most high-efficiency perovskite cells require high temperatures (500°C) to fabricate the needed TiO2 scaffolding. This technology is not yet used in industry but the research that I participated in was aimed at making this technology competitive with solar cell technologies that are currently in use by decreasing the temperature requirements of fabrication while keeping the efficiency high enough. Perovskites themselves show potential for the solar cell industry because they are cheaper and more easily fabricated than silicon cells.

In the first few weeks of my internship I focused on low-temperature perovskite cells, carrying out research to expand my knowledge of the subject I had never before dealt with as well as looking for and testing published methods that could be incorporated into the current procedure used in my lab. We made several runs to test multiple methods of making low-temperature, planar solar cells, as it is the TiO2 scaffolding that requires the high annealing temperatures that currently make this technology impractical. Decreasing the processing temperatures also allows for the possibility of making the cells on a greater variety of substrates, including flexible substrates.

I also studied the degradation and stability of the new material, as this too is a key aspect in allowing for the perovskite technology to be implemented in industry. Perovskite layers are traditionally very easily and quickly degraded in the presence of water. We experimented with mixed halide perovskites as the lab standard was a perovskite that used only iodide ions, but mixed halide perovskite layers, i.e. I3-XBrx, have been shown to be more stable. Several experiments were set up to vary the iodide to bromide ratios in the perovskite and the absorption, transmittance, and degradation of each type of layer were studied after they were kept under different conditions (inert atmosphere, exposure to light, dark, etc.). For this purpose, photothermal deflection spectroscopy (PDS) was employed, a highly sensitive method to detect material defects.

Neuchâtel – Switzerland

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A small town on the shores of the biggest completely Swiss-owned lake in Switzerland, Neuchâtel was my home during my internship with EPFL. Despite its small population and small town feel there are a lot of things to do and see in the city. A trip downtown to see the Rue du Seyon and Rue des Moulins on my first weekend here immediately won my heart and I was sure I would be returning here often, whether it be to sit at a bar/restaurant, go shopping, or see the market on Tuesdays and Saturdays. While in the area I visited the Collegiale and the Chateau, from where the canton is still governed today – I enjoyed the views meant for kings, saw the ancient treasure room, took a place on the benches at the courthouse, and sat in the place of a journalist in the main conference room, built where the stables used to be.

Being in a small town allowed me to enjoy some truly legitimate Swiss culture, but the Swiss transportation system also allowed me to travel to other places around Switzerland with ease. I was able to visit friends in Geneva and Zürich as well as travel with interns from the Lausanne site to the Montreux Jazz Festival, the Gruyère cheese factory, and the Cailler chocolate factory at Broc, amongst other places. The landscapes in Switzerland are picturesque and no matter where you are travelling, this country really allows you to enjoy the trip and not just the destination as a simple glance out the train window will reveal rolling hills planted with grains, grapes, or sunflowers, mirror-like lakes, or post-card views of the Swiss Alps.

Montreux – Jazz Festival, Chateau de Chillon

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In the middle of world cup season, this trip down to the Montreux Jazz Festival 2014 allowed me to experience one of the football games on a big screen with other interns from Lausanne, some Brazilian music, and a trip to the famously beautiful Chateau de Chillon in addition to the Jazz Festival. The Chateau was the biggest that I had seen in Switzerland so far and the feeling of it reminded me of some films and TV shows I had watched. Everything seemed very genuine despite the crowds of tourists and to make things even more interesting George RR Martin also visited the castle at the same time and we all got a picture with him at the end of our tour.

Enjoying the atmosphere of the festival was also fun and relaxing as we sat on the lawn near the lake or some lawn chairs and enjoyed the sounds of music, people, and the small souvenir market around us. I will definitely want to visit this festival and spend a little longer there at some point in the future.

Gruyère – Cheese Factory & Broc – Cailler Factory

What could possibly be more Swiss than cheese and chocolate? At the cheese and chocolate factories in the Gruyère area I had the opportunity to see and learn about the cheese and chocolate making process and even taste some of the final product. Around the small towns it is also possible to see the farms where the cows are raised. This trip was very enjoyable and allowed me to see and get to know a little piece of the Swiss culture and tradition of cheese and chocolate making. I learned that the Swiss people are one of the largest consumers of chocolate and after having been in Switzerland for a while I could understand why. Swiss chocolate is so amazing it is practically magical. One of the first times I went to the supermarket here in Switzerland I noticed that every single American Chocolate on the shelf was cheaper than even the cheapest Swiss chocolate and I laughed.

Geneva – August 9th Fireworks

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Although the Swiss National Holiday is on August 1st, Geneva continues its partying in Fêtes de Geneve until August 9th when they close with a majestic firework display that is perfectly synchronized with music. I watch fireworks ever year on New Year`s Eve and have also been to a couple of July 4th celebrations in the USA but I can say with all honesty that the Fireworks in Geneva on August 9th were the best that I have ever seen. I watched them from the fourth floor of a building by the lake with some family friends and saw all of the CHF100 seats by the lake and on Mont Blanc Bridge and then all the remaining floor space on the bridge and between the buildings and the lake get completely occupied hours before the fireworks started.

Lucerne – Old town, Lake cruise, Mt. Pilatus

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My trip to Lucerne was a spontaneous one but turned out unexpectedly considering this. I missed the train I meant to take and arrived only in the late morning and was immediately taken by the beautiful view of the lake. Having heard that The thing to do at Lucerne was to take a cruise on the lake the first thing I did was to check the cruise schedules. I decided I had enough time to walk around before taking the boat so I walked across the bridge and up the hill to the towers and wall reminiscent of castle defenses. After a short stroll through on the wall I went back down through the old town but the buildings and atmosphere so captured me that I arrived late at the docks and missed my boat too. Deciding to make the best of my situation I planned to take the next boat and to my surprise, after getting on the boat I discovered that I was going to be dropped off right next to the stop for the steepest cogwheel train in the world which climbs to the top of Mt. Pilatus.

I enjoyed the scenic boat ride with all the small farms and houses on the hills around the lake and then took the train up to Mt. Pilatus. From the top observatory all the fingers of Lake Lucerne could be seen and there was a full 360 view of all the land in the other directions too. I took a funicular and gondolas to descend the mountain on the side opposite from the one I had come up and only then did the sun, which had been shining all day in a blue sky, hide behind a cloud and let the rain take over. For an unplanned trip my day went extraordinarily well considering even the weather, which had been quite misbehaved all summer, was perfect.

Zermatt – Matterhorn

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Having already visited Mt. Pilatus and having traveled through many other mountains in Switzerland did not prepare me for seeing the Matterhorn. I was expecting to arrive and be faced with a multitude of peaks amongst which I would have to search for the Matterhorn. I was thus awestruck when I looked up in the train to see a single peak rising above all the others in the area. It was undeniably the same peak I had seen countless times on Toblerone packaging, but more beautiful and bigger than I had ever imagined. We took a trip up to Sunnega in the funicular and were soon feeling the altitude as breathing became difficult more quickly than usual when we took a hike along the five-lake trail.

Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe

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The Jungfraujoch is also called “The Top of Europe” and before going there I saw many reviews on travel sites saying that a visit here was a must if you are spending more than a week in Switzerland. I had only one weekend left in Switzerland and decided to go irrespective of non-ideal weather. Upon arrival at the station in Lauterbrunnen I headed over to the ticket office to buy my ticket and when the sbb worker told me the price I couldn`t believe him at first. The ticket was ridiculously expensive even for Swiss standards (CHF 88.10 for roundtrip with demi-tarif), but I decided that having already gone halfway there I had to make it to the top. I paid for my ticket and along with it I got a “passport” to prove that I had been to Jungfraujoch. As the train started to climb into the clouds visibility dropped to about 5m and all I could see was the were the Swiss Alpine flowers on one side of the tracks and on the other side, that of the cliff, there wasn`t even that much. At Kleine Scheidegg I changed over to a different train that would take me the rest of the way to the top. The train stopped at multiple viewing platforms along the way but all that could be seen out of the windows were clouds (there are also bathrooms at these viewing points and if you want to take a look out the viewing platform windows do it on the way up because the train does not stop there again on the way down).

Once we emerged out of the final tunnel and arrived at the highest station in Europe, however, the sun was out despite the below-freezing temperatures. I put on my second jacket and walked through the tour, going out onto the first viewing platform immediately in front of the station exit and walking through the chilly hallways and caves through the 360 panorama video room to arrive at the Sphinx. When I stepped out into the daylight with all the snow around me I realized that I should have brought sunglasses because the sunlight reflected off all the snow made it so that it took 5 minutes for my eyes to adjust so I could open them. Continuing my tour I went out to their snow fun area and found that to participate in any of the fun snow activities I needed to pay more. Instead, I decided to take the 45 minute walk up to the Mönchsjoch Hut. The sunlight outside made the air felt warmer than the one inside the caves and building and there is also a certain feeling of the Alps that just cannot be completely understood when you are standing behind a glass window. The climb actually took me about 1 hour including all the breaks for catching my breath and for picture-taking but the view was beautiful all along the way with the Jungfrau at my back, the Mönch in front of me, and the Aletsch glacier in the valley to my right. The monstrosity of the landscape around me was awe-inspiring. Once I reached the little hut cozy-ed up against the mountain and looked down the other side of the mountain I felt like I was standing on the edge of the world. The clouds below made it impossible to see the valley and I realized I was literally standing on a wonderland in the clouds. After returning into the observatory there was still the ice palace to see before returning and the ice sculptures were beautiful, but for me the edge of the world experience on the Mönch was unbeatable. At the end of the day I was very glad to have visited Jungfraujoch on my last weekend day in Switzerland and the trip was worth every one of the ridiculously many cents it cost me.

And finally, some last remarks

All in all I had a great time with MISTI Switzerland and the EPFL Research Internship Program, learning not only while I was in the lab, but also outside it. I ventured into an academic field that I had no previous experience with and a country I did not know well and as a result I gained both academic knowledge and knowledge about the world around me and myself.
I hope to continue developing my knowledge and experience in the field of renewable energy and use all that I have learned to further improve myself and give back to society.

Barbara Lima, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Photovoltaics and Thin Film Electronics Laboratory PV-LAB, EPFL

My Summer Adventure in Switzerland at the Heart of Europe

For a while I had been wondering how to approach writing this blog post.  I considered choosing my favorite memory from working with my supervisor and professor or enjoying a good conversation with them during an after-work apéro.  On the other hand maybe I’d choose my favorite trip with the interns.  I have come to the realization that, no matter how descriptive the writing, neither of these anecdotes would be adequate to convey just how much I enjoyed my summer in Switzerland.  I met some of the coolest people, actually probably the coolest people I’ve ever met in my life.  I never imagined that after spending just three short months in Switzerland I’d return to the States with pride for the research I’ve done and equally for the awesome friendships I made along the way.  The memories that I have brought back with me are simply unparalleled.

When I first arrived in Switzerland I didn’t know what to expect, how I’d acclimate to the new environment, or what EPFL would be like.  I had absolutely no expectations and only a picture of the RLC in my mind.  On my first day of lab and second day of being in Switzerland, I crossed paths with one of the interns running an errand with his secretary at Crochy.  At that point I formulated my first opinion of Switzerland: everyone is extremely kind and so very welcoming.  In that moment I had no way of foreseeing the awesome friendship that this first encounter would turn into, among many others with the other interns.  I had no way of imagining how we would travel across Switzerland and even Europe all together.   Nothing anyone told me before coming here nor anything I could have researched online could have prepared me for the amazing, once in a lifetime experience that I had this summer.   My most memorable experiences extend far beyond the laboratory and the EPFL campus.  Since I was in Europe I took the opportunity to visit family members in Romania whom I had never met before.   Without this experience I’m almost certain I would have never met them at all.  This internship program has provided me with so many opportunities that I have been able to enjoy during my time in Lausanne such as further solidifying my passion for biological engineering and allowing my love for adventure and knowledge to flourish.   However the best part is that it continues to give me opportunities and has opened new doors for my future.   It has given me what will hopefully be lifelong friendships, a campus and laboratory to where I may return for my doctoral studies, and possibly a place where I may call home once again.  After all, we are in the present.  And as of right now, I have no way of knowing what to expect for the future.  However, I can absolutely say that the Research Internship Program has opened my eyes to another part of the world, a new culture, a new perspective on life, and most importantly a better understanding of myself.  This is indispensable knowledge that will guide me through many decisions I will inevitably be forced to make in the future.

Thank you so much to Karen Undritz and to all the staff at EPFL who made this adventure possible for all of us this summer. We are eternally thankful for this wonderful learning and cultural experience. I was purposely careful not to say a final goodbye to Switzerland, nor to my lab, nor to my friends. The world is truly a small place- especially when you live in the center of Europe- and hopefully one day we will all reunite again to remember and relive the great memories we all made together here in Lausanne and beyond. Our journey doesn’t simply end here but will continue on as we all enter new, albeit different, stages of our lives. For most of us these are pivotal times when we will need to decide where the next step will lead us. Luckily, this arduous task is mitigated by our network of diverse- both geographically and personally- friends who can provide us with their invaluable perspectives and opinions.

So in conclusion, so long Switzerland… for now. 🙂

Some of my favorite photos from around Switzerland:

Ouchy, Lausanne.  A view of the French Alps and Lac Leman.

Ouchy, Lausanne. A view of the French Alps and Lac Leman.

Port at Ouchy, Lausanne.

Port at Ouchy, Lausanne.


Lutry Wine Vineyards, a short train ride from Lausanne.

Lutry Wine Vineyards, a short train ride from Lausanne.

Walking timidly across the Trift Suspension Bridge.

Walking timidly across the Trift Suspension Bridge.


From the top of Eggishorn overlooking the Aletsch glacier.


A view over the city of Lucerne.

A view over the city of Lucerne.


Tiffany Amariuta
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Laboratory of Integrative Systems Physiology, EPFL

Saying Goodbye!

Before arriving at EPFL, I had very high expectations. I knew it would be a great experience, but I didn’t actually realize how much it would impact me.

Switzerland is one of the most beautiful countries I have visited. Although it is small, every town has something special to share. I especially love the culture in Lausanne. Weekends are spent barbecuing on the lake with friends, there is every sport you can imagine, and there are always festivals happening. I had the chance to go to Paléo, where I saw the Black Keys, 30 Seconds to Mars, MIA, and more incredibly cool bands. There is really something for everyone.

LausanneOverlooking the Lac Léman and the Alps from Lavaux, just out of Lausanne

Apart from being a tourist on weekends, I had the wonderful opportunity to be part of a new lab at EPFL. The Laboratory of Renewable Energy Science and Engineering (LRESE) first opened in February 2013, and already they have made immense progress. Professor Haussener has been a great role model to me. Being a woman in such a high-level engineering field poses many challenges, and yet it is remarkable that she was offered a position at EPFL before she even finished her PhD. She has an energy and a passion for her field that is unparalleled, and is ready to extend opportunities to young students like myself which we would never get otherwise. This seems to be a fairly common mentality at EPFL, where instead of aiming for the older, more experienced researchers who have been in their field for decades, they look for young individuals who will bring new ideas to the table. In an environment abundant in resources, they can afford to take risks and give you the tools to get creative and take new directions. In three months, I saw the lab go from 5 members to 12. All of them are incredibly intelligent, passionate and knowledgeable about their field, and each one brings a special vibe to the team. It was a very enriching experience that permitted me to grow both professionally and personally, and hopefully has made me a better researcher for later on.

And finally, I would like to give a shout out to all the amazing people I met this summer. The interns that took part in the EPFL Research Internship program are more than a handful of people you will share a summer abroad with. These people will become professional colleagues in the future, and make up the first layers of an extensive professional network. As has been highlighted in previous posts, everyone in the group is extremely competent and skilled in their respective fields. If you need advice, or want to brainstorm new ideas, these are people you can turn to. What makes them different from your ordinary LinkedIn contacts, however, is that we all shared a unique experience over a whole summer. So even if you don’t speak to them for, say, 10 years, you will always have this summer to fall back on as an ice-breaker, and somehow I know it will always bring us together in the future.


Hiking around the Matterhorn in Zermatt, i.e. THE Toblerone mountain.

In two days I leave Switzerland for good. I will miss it terribly, but I look forward to potentially coming back to complete my master’s degree. So long Lausanne – see you in a year!

Christina Moro, McGill University
Laboratory of Renewable Energy Science and Engineering (LRESE), EPFL

for you=1:length(Research_Internship_Program);

For you = 1 : length(Research_Internship_Program) neatly summarizes all that I have experienced this summer as part of the Internship Program at EPFL. This phrase (thank you Matlab) simply states that you iterate through all of the things that could possibly happen to you during your stay. I will comment on a few of these experiences 🙂


One aspect of the program is simply the setting. Situated right on the edge of Lac Leman, working and living near EPFL was never a sore site. Everything was easily accessible by public transport at (almost) all hours, and with a monthly metro pass, I didn’t even have to fumble for change every time I wanted to zip to another area. The metro is also directly connected to two main train stations, which became a frequent meeting point for the adventurous travellers in the program. From these stations, we embarked on what seemed like a trip to a different country every weekend. Thanks to Switzerland’s central location in the heart of Europe, it never took too long to visit a different place and gain another stamp on our passports. And if we didn’t have the time, coordination, or wish to go outside Swiss borders, we hiked, swam, and toured everywhere from tiny villages in the Alps to world-class metropolises like Zurich.


Wow what a privilege to work in a top lab in brain-computer interface! The professor and assistant could not have been more welcoming, and the Ph.D. students, post-docs, and senior scientists could not have been more helpful. By the end of my time working in the lab, I have gained so many technical skills (in recording EEG), coding skills (MATLAB, Python), critical thinking skills (experimental design, data analysis and interpretation, machine learning techniques), and professional skills (project presentation, problem solving). And of course all of the fun outings and events we had as a lab at the professor’s house, the lake, or in the city centre. I arrived at the lab with a strong interest in brain-computer interface and basic skills, and I feel I will be leaving with awe for the field and considerably more advanced skills. I have also formed professional relationships with the lab, which can only help me in the future. I will continue to build on my project and the skills I’ve learned in the past few months as I work on my honor’s thesis this coming Senior year.


It really matters who you are with. Even if you are doing great research and travelling to a bunch of great places, what really makes the experience rich is the people you share them with. The interns in the program are fantastic! I’ve never been in a group of such inquisitive, curious, talented, dedicated, and adventurous people! It seemed like we were always discussing deep philosophical questions, and when we weren’t doing that, we were cracking jokes in our sort of “intern language.” You just want to know what these people are thinking, and what they are questioning, because we all come from different backgrounds and fields, and so everyone seems like an expert! The people in my lab were also fantastic. They cut me slack when I needed it, and pushed me when I needed it. Rather than just telling me how to do things, they let me figure it out, which although seems frustrating while you are figuring it out, in the end it makes you learn better and understand more about what you are doing. I could not have asked to work, lunch, travel, or hang out with better people-inside and outside of the lab. Shout out to CNBI (Char in Non-Invasive Brain-Computer Interface) and the interns in the program-my summer is that much better because of you!

Isabel Sible, UC Berkeley
Laboratory of the Defitech Foundation Chair in Non-Invasive Brain-Machine Interface (CNBI), EPFL


The Real Swiss Experience

“Israel intensifies Gaza offensive.” “Ukraine crisis: Russian army vehicles seen near border.” These are some headlines I stumble upon, as I am fortunate enough to drink hot green tea and enjoy a warm chocolate croissant at my lab desk. Switzerland, a country of three different language-based regions, bewilders me with its incredible harmony despite its different and various cultures. In this blog, I wish to convey two goods and two bads of my time here, in alternating sequences, to enable you to paint your own landscape of Switzerland. Let’s dive in with the good.


The Lake

Lake Léman anchors my experience. Simply put, I love the lake.  On the first day I arrived, some floor mates I had just met dragged me to go to the “Last Day of School” event, organized by EPFL, right by the lakeside. This marked the start to my great relationship with the lake. Since then, the lake and I have shared many experiences together, from swimming and picnics to basketball and biking. EPFL interns get access to bikes for free via the PubliBike system so I take the twenty minute scenic bike route home any chance I get, provided I could obtain a bike and that it didn’t rain. But of course, it rains.  (Pictured above: A boat ride to Thonon Les Bains)


The Rain

Precipitation obstructs plans. Sometimes it’s okay, but Sunday rain is the worst. Most places are closed on Sundays, and the rain prevents outdoorsy activities. Just cozy up, grab a good book and watch some good movies.  The rain pushed our Matterhorn trip back twice, so plan around it!  (Pictured above: I don’t take pictures in the rain, but this was taken on my flight into Geneva.  It’s cloudy at least!)


The Exploration

Travel, travel, travel! There are two trans-Switzerland passes I highly recommend. The demi tariff lets you buy train tickets at half price. The Voie 7 lets you take any train for free after 19:00. Together, they allow you to travel all over Switzerland. Take a trip to Geneva and see the Red Cross Museum. Or go to Montreux during their legendary Jazz Festival. And definitely hike Gruyere, where they have amazing fondue and raclette. And although the passes are limited to use only in Switzerland, do not feel restricted. You can easily go to other European cities. I personally highly recommend Paris.  (Pictured above: A selfie for a hike to the Trift Suspension Bridge)


Le Français

Everyone here speaks French! I actually view this as a good thing, but it might take some getting used to. For the university, everyone will know English; in fact, half of my lab does not speak French. Outside of campus, you can get by using Franglais and weird hand gestures and symbols to communicate.  If you immerse yourself, you can even come out a French speaker (maybe). For now, learn Merci and Au Revoir. Thanks and bye for now!  (Pictured above: A hike with the lab that doesn’t speak French)


Nicholas Cheung, Johns Hopkins University
Angiogenesis and Tumor Microenvironment Lab, The Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research (ISREC), EPFL

Some Lasting First Impressions

Switzerland is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been, to say the least, so here are three things that I realized early on in my three-month stay here, and have stuck with me since—The “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”—inducing moments.

  1. Smarter buildings and transportation – The Swiss build with environmental sustainability and energy conservation in mind. Green roofs, smart façade designs, solar panels, permeable pavements are the norm here. These are all easy sustainable construction methods that I wish every city could adapt, and can significantly improve the quality of life for its inhabitants in the long run (Especially Pittsburgh, as I’ve gathered in a previous EPP Projects course). Transportation is Switzerland is just as impressive to me from the driverless and steeply-inclined M2 metro line of Lausanne, or the partly single-tracked M1 line that operates precisely on schedule. The bike share system is so commonly used that we often struggle to find one available around campus after work, and you’ll almost never see a car larger than a sedan on the road.
  2. Approach to higher education – From conversations I’ve had with an EPFL student early on, I’ve learned that about half of incoming undergraduate freshmen drop out of EPFL after their first year, simply because coursework is too difficult and demanding. The concept is that everyone should have fair access to quality education after high school no matter their family income, so tuition is kept low at 633 CHF (about 700 USD) per semester, or an astounding 3% of CMU tuition. Acceptance rates are high, but once you get in to the university, it’s hard work to stay on top of the competition. It’s also not uncommon for students to fail a semester or two of classes and have to extend their stay at EPFL. Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset
  3. Diversity at EPFL – Research brings people together from all over the world, and this was especially apparent at a top-notch research university such as EPFL. Just in my small lab group alone, I’ve worked with a professor from Benin, post-docs from India and Spain, and other students from China and Italy. (Ironically, no Swiss.) Coffee break conversations are often filled with each one of us chiming in on how the ways of life are alike and different in our respective homelands.

Yang You, Carnegie Mellon University

Bioenergy and Energy Planning Research Group, EPFL


Campus livin’

Casual Alpine backdrop

Having studied in Cambridge, where tourists are made fun of for asking for directions to ‘the University’ (silly tourists! How could they not know that Cambridge University has many many mini-university sites, from colleges to departments and administrative buildings), actually having one self-enclosed campus to explore at EPFL is a new departure for me. The multitudes of cafés, shops and student services may be a standard on university campuses around the globe but I really think the physical community adds to the spirit of communal learning and sharing of information at EPFL, by fostering friendship between colleagues and networking between friends.

My department-Sciences de la Vie-and its neuron floor-muralIn other aspects EPFL is set apart from other universities by way of its ‘Swissness’-where else in the world would a building be named after a watch company, or would you look up to see the Alps seemingly in every direction? And I do wish the custom of having a cheese, fruit and bread market every Monday morning would catch on elsewhere. Similarly, there is a typically European emphasis on good food, with plenty of time at lunch to eat or even have a glass of wine the norm. And even in the summer months with few students still around, there are still things to see and do around campus, from an exhibition on the books of the future at the aforementioned Rolex Learning Centre, to taking a ride on a driverless car! One feature of EPFL would make any Cantabrigian feel at home though: a strong biking culture, with the provision of free borrowable bicycles on the CampusRoule scheme!

Caitríona Callan, Cambridge University
Neurodegenerative Studies Laboratory, Brain Mind Institute, EPFL