Monthly Archives: August 2015

Switzerland, I Will Be Back





After coming back to Singapore, all the 6 months I had in Switzerland was like a dream. All the breathtaking scenery, all the crazy things I have done, all the awesome people I have met, they are like existences in a beautiful dream and I finally woke up into the reality, in a hot rain forest with sunset at 7pm everyday.

I was lucky enough to have the exchange program and this summer internship, which made my six months’ stay in Lausanne, an important span of my life.

During my exchange semester, most of my travels were outside of Switzerland. After that I started my real exploration of Switzerland and I regretted that I didn’t find its beauty earlier.

A typical week:

Monday to Friday:  In the morning i rode my bicycle to my lab, went pass the corn field, seeing the Alps, sensing the cozy winds. I was working in the Applied Computing and Mechanics (IMAC) Laboratory under Professor Ian Smith, the Head of laboratory. I was working on a pioneer project that aiming to construct an teaching module about BIM (Building Information Modelling) Technology, which was a totally new area for me. The most challenging part of this project was to design the content and organization of this tech-related module in a tech-irrelevant way, which enables the module to be long-lastingly practical with the fast-changing technology.

I was glad that my lab mates , which are PHDs and scientists, are all very nice and helpful. Everyday we had lunch together and share our appreciations on similarities and differences among our cultures, foods and experiences. After lunch we usually had a relaxing coffee session to have a bit more fun. The work in lab can be tough and challenging but the relaxing time we shared added enough power to us.

Here comes the part of the after-work life. Inspired by my Belarus roommate Stas, I got my subscription of the water sports of our school. Almost every day after work I would just head to the lakeside riding my bike and do some water sports there. Lac de Leman is fantastic, doing windsurfing on the lake could be like flying within the heaven. Laying down and taking a nap on your stand up paddle board after going into the middle of the lake is like being in a place that you were the only existence.

water sports

Sometimes there were BBQ/party/picnics organized by the interns in the evening, having fun and talking to these lovely people from Oxford, Cambridge, Georgia Tech, MIT could be very enjoyable. Knowing how different ways people look at the world was inspiring.

A great thing about summer in Lausanne is that the sunset is always latter than 10pm, hence the time after work was just like the start of the day! we have 5 hours before sunset, and I will never forget how breath-taking the sunset at the lake is.

Weekend: Weekends are the free days that we could take day trips within Switzerland or go abroad. It was my dream to hike and cycle on Alps when I was a child and this summer I really make it. Switzerland transportation system is perfect for traveling with bike and I had took my bike to many mountains of this country. I don’t know how to express my feeling when I sped on the top of the mountain with the sound of the wind sweeping my head, it is like…I could feel that I am live in real.


What is Switzerland? Crystal lakes, Alps and clear sky? Snow and glaciers? Swans, cows with bells and the fresh smell of the grass? All the nice people? It is all of them, all of them and many memories make the Switzerland for me. Switzerland, I will be back!



  1. Purchase the half-fare and track 7 SBB card.
  2. Explore the Alps by hiking or cycling (buy a second-hand bike in campus)
  3. Get the water sports subscription to have great fun on Lac de Leman (Windsurf, kayak, stand up paddle) and swim a lot!
  4. Have fun with the awesome interns!


Yuan Zijie, Nanyang Technological University,

Laboratory of Applied Computing and Mechanics (IMAC), 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.


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.

2015-08-20 16.47.46

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.