Learning and Lasering

John Misiaszek

Microbial Ecology– Northwestern University Empa-Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology

2023

I spent the fall of 2023 working at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) in Prof. Christian Leinenbach’s group, conducting research on the selective laser melting of titanium with salt spaceholders for porous orthopedic materials. I worked with an experienced team of metallurgists from whom I learned the intricacies of the selective laser melting process, enabling me to produce samples suitable for our material investigation. I was extremely fortunate to work with a knowledgeable and easygoing professor in an environment that incentivized work-life balance, learning, and collaboration.

I very much appreciated the pace of life in Switzerland. In my experience at a U.S. institution, it is uncommon for graduate students and postdocs to take time for lunch to converse and enjoy one another’s company, but this was the norm at Empa. I learned a lot from the senior lab members about the history of metallurgy and contemporary metallurgical processing during the various coffee breaks throughout my short stay. These coffee breaks also benefitted my research, enabling me to talk through processing and characterization difficulties that I faced.

In the U.S., outdoor sports comprise the bulk of my hobbies. To maximize my experience in Switzerland, I bought a mountain bike on my third day in the town of Davos. I used this bike almost every day throughout my stay to get to work and also to visit various attractions around Zurich, especially climbing gyms. By the end, I had tried every climbing gym in Zurich! I utilized a meetup website called Kletterportal to find indoor and outdoor climbing partners; the accessibility and selection of folks willing to explore big mountains cannot be beat in Switzerland. I made weekend trips to Italy, Germany, France, and other countries to round out my European cultural experience. I tried to make the most of every weekend!

I would like to thank ThinkSwiss for giving me this opportunity to learn and explore, as well as Prof. Leinenbach and Empa for this valuable experience.

Writing Code and Wandering in the Alps

Ben Jakubczak

Microbial Ecology– Hamilton College ∞ University of Fribourg

2023

 

I spent the fall of 2023 working at the University of Fribourg, conducting a variety of metagenomic and microbial ecology projects to assist a project with the goal of understanding the influence of a mother’s microbiome on infants. Using novel code in combination with preestablished programs, our team created a pipeline to assess the quality of Next Generation Sequencing samples and then subsequently build and identify the genomes to answer the question of what is present. Without significant experience in computational biology, I gained many skills from the mentorship of my PI and lab team.

Outside of the lab, Switzerland was my outdoor playground. With the Swiss public transport system’s excellent connections and the Swiss Alps hut system’s affordability, I could easily travel to remote trails and experience the hospitality of mountain huts. In these cozy huts, I connected with travelers and Swiss nationals while sharing traditional foods, all with the goal of enjoying the outdoors. By staying through the fall, I could experience the changing seasons, including alpine snowfalls in September, the golden autumn foliage in October, and the quiet snowfalls in December. But the pinnacle of it all was the unique experience of skiing the Alps—and no need to worry about transportation with trains and buses fitted with storage for skis.

Although the outdoors may have been the most appealing and rewarding part of my experience, I was also able to explore other aspects of Swiss and European life. From running in the Murten-Fribourg race to experiencing the Almanfahrt in the Berner Oberland to swimming in Lac Léman; from getting tours of Zürich from my roommates to watching cheese makers in Gruyère; from playing in Swiss lacrosse to shopping at the Basel Christmas market; from celebrating and cheering on my newly beloved Fribourg-Gotteron with my friends to skiing the Matterhorn. My experience in Switzerland were diverse, fulfilling, and educational, all while allowing me to travel to Germany, France, Italy, and beyond.

I would like to thank ThinkSwiss for giving me this opportunity to learn and explore, as well as Dr. Laurent Falquet and the University of Fribourg biology department for this fantastic experience. 

An expansion of global perspective and heart

Jennifer Zhu

Chemical Biology– McMaster University ∞ EPFL

2023

I spent my summer at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), located in the French-speaking region of the country on the edge of Lac Léman. My project was to investigate genes related to breast cancer metastasis and dormancy. Most of my days were filled with running western blots and poring over microscope images, with the occasional interesting mice dissection or academic talk squeezed in.

The lab environment was great, with a supportive and diverse cast of colleagues who introduced me to the delights of Italian taralli, Brazilian mate, and of course Swiss chocolate. I learned a lot, both about the current research landscape and about how human connection is a constant even thousands of kilometers away from home.

My route to work would take me near the water, with the Cornettes de Bise mountain looming in the background; every now and then I would encounter a herd of mountain sheep grazing by the road. That is to say, the scenery in Switzerland is truly wonderful. Formidable mountains, swans swimming in bright blue lakes, quaint wooden houses with red flowers in the windowsills, and many a grand cathedral or museum.

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A very Swiss summer

Jayant Raj

Decentralized/Distributed Systems– New York University ∞ Università della Svizerra italiana

2023

Whenever I was asked what country I would like to travel to if given a chance, I always said Switzerland. I had never been there before! Then, during the summer of 2023, I had the opportunity to pursue research work at USI Lugano, popularly called University of Lugano outside Europe. It is the only Italian-speaking university in Switzerland. I was close to choosing to go to Lugano for my masters. This was my chance to experience the country and the city!

I worked in data structures and concurrency, a field of computer science. I had no previous research experience or any idea about the second topic before starting my internship and wasn’t a computer science major in college. So, it became a fun adventure: I spent a lot of time getting up to speed and learning the required background material. I came to understand how computer science research is done. I made friends with other doctoral students in the field. I learned how to work completely independently, which, after all, is what independent research is all about – seeing what research problems there are in an area, learning to decide which one to tackle, understanding how to break it up into smaller pieces, then trying your best! I learned a lot in my few weeks there.

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New experiences and neuroscience in Geneva

Shannon Dallaire

Clinical Neuroscience– Dalhousie University ∞ University of Geneva

2023

Before boarding my plane to Switzerland, I had no idea what I was getting into. I had done my research on the work I would be doing in the lab, but other than that I was completely unprepared for the experience I was about to have.

I spent two months in Geneva working at the Human Neuron Lab with the University of Geneva on localization of intracranial microelectrodes from stereo-EEGs in epileptic patients. We were designing a new software to improve localization accuracy to know, in combination with results from cognitive tests, where a patient’s seizures were originating to be able to treat them.

Of course, my trip did not only consist in spending time in the lab. I had just as much fun going hiking and exploring nearby cities with new friends. Geneva was an incredible place to live, with a new festival or celebration happening seemingly every week. From attending these events, trying new restaurants, going to the beach, or going for ice cream by the lake with friends, there was always so much to do. Although I enjoyed the research I was doing, I think my favorite part of the experience was getting the chance to meet people from all over the world with all sorts of different backgrounds. I still talk to many of the friends I made in Geneva and am hoping to visit some of them in the near future.

I am so grateful to the Human Neuron Lab for welcoming me into their lab and for the ThinkSwiss scholarship program for making this experience possible. I will never forget my time in Switzerland and am already looking forward to returning!

Marvelous mountains and microplastics

Elizabeth Sullivan

Human Computer Interaction– McGill University ∞ University of Bern

2023

I am very grateful for the opportunity provided by the ThinkSwiss Research Scholarship. I was able to spend an incredible three months conducting research with Professor Katrina Kremer at the University of Bern. Finding out that I had been awarded this opportunity felt like a dream come true.

My research project, based in Bern, Switzerland, involved examining the temporal distribution of microplastics in lake sediments, specifically focussed on Lake Oeschinen.  I was able to take part in sediment core collection, spending some lovely days on the lake getting to do fieldwork. After completing the fieldwork phase, I transitioned to the laboratory, where I spent my time characterizing and quantifying the microplastics found in the core.

Being fully integrated in the Sediment Dynamics Group at the University of Bern was such a beneficial experience, as I was provided with many opportunities to build upon my existing research skills. Collaborating with fellow group members and learning new techniques was something I highly valued

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The human-computer interaction and mountain adventures in St. Gallen

Yasemin Günal

Human Computer Interaction– University of Michigan ∞ University of St. Gallen

2023

Over the past summer, I lived and researched in St. Gallen, Switzerland–a city an hour outside of Zurich. My experience was inspiring not only for my future research aspirations but from a cultural standpoint. Between trying bratwurst for the first time and spending every Sunday on the Swiss railway system commuting to different mountains, I can safely say I fully immersed myself in the Swiss-German lifestyle.

I spent the summer at the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of St. Gallen Computer Science Institute. At the lab, I had the privilege of working on a research study that focused on how the increased usage of satellite navigation technologies have led to significant challenges in urban traffic management and how to mitigate those challenges. We investigated the negative societal externalities within local communities and neighborhoods. I worked with a corpus of news reports in Python to determine findings that were included in a research paper that was recently submitted to the 2024 ACM CHI Conference. Aside from my main project responsibilities, the UNISG HCI lab exposed me to other cutting-edge research being performed in the HCI field, ranging from virtual reality interface design to the analysis of empathic in-vehicle interfaces for enhancing driver performance.

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Swiss skies and cosmic ties

Nolan Koblischke

Astrophysics– University of British Columbia ∞ EPFL

2023

Set in a forest outside Geneva, the Geneva Observatory became my workplace for an unforgettable summer. I biked to work daily through sunflower fields and forests, with Mont Blanc in the distance. My internship at EPFL provided me an opportunity to dive deep into one of astrophysics’ pressing challenges: measuring the expansion rate of the universe.

My project centered on red giant stars in nearby dwarf galaxies: the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. In order to discover how fast the universe is expanding, we must be able to measure distances to other galaxies with high accuracy. I worked on improving this method using data from the Gaia space telescope. My project helped us better understand the methods we use for measuring distances in space, offering a clearer perspective on the universe’s rate of expansion.

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From elementary particles to alpine peaks: An unforgettable experience

Dung Hoang

Physics – Rhodes College ∞ CERN

2023

Switzerland might be a small country, but it is home to some of the greatest things on Earth, both man-made and natural. This summer, thanks to the ThinkSwiss Research Scholarship, I had the chance not only to do research at the biggest particle accelerator in the world, but also to explore the magnificent Alps. Three months in Switzerland gave me valuable lessons and fond memories that I will never forget.
Located in a suburb of Geneva, on the French–Swiss border, CERN is home to the Large Hadron Collider, which smashes protons together at nearly the speed of light, producing extremely rare events that give us a peek into the building blocks of the universe – the elementary particles. At CERN, I collaborated with a team of scientists on a software system that selected the most interesting events from the huge volume of data generated by the collisions. Specifically, we focused on improving a set of physical parameters that had been yielding subpar results. With the help of my supervisors and coworkers, I implemented an AI algorithm that successfully found the optimal parameters. Throughout the summer, I learned a great deal about particle physics and scientific computing, two areas I hope to explore more in the future as an aspiring scientist.

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This is what dreams are made of

Elizabeth Ross

Biomedical engineering – University of Zürich ∞ Georgia Institute of Technology

2023

Looking back at my summer in Zürich, Switzerland, it feels like a dream. It is a wonderful, beautiful dream that I never want to wake up from. There were days spent on challenging yet rewarding research, incredible friendships, and unforgettable memories. The craziest part is that it was not a dream, but my reality for 10 weeks thanks to ThinkSwiss.

At Kinderspital Zürich, or University Children’s Hospital Zürich, I worked with the Translational Brain Tumor Group on a project to improve detection of pediatric brain tumors through the application of a machine learning model. From leading physicians in pediatrics, neuro-oncology, and radiology, I not only learned about MR imaging and brain anatomy, but also was inspired by their role as both clinicians and researchers. One of my favorite research memories was joining a tumor board discussion where the team decided on the best course of treatment for each child. It was impactful to see the real-life connection to the hundreds of brain tumors I annotated and segmented from patient data. Each day, I looked forward to walking from my apartment down one of Zürich’s many steep hills to the very special place that is Kinderspital Zürich.

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Scaling new heights in research and alpine adventures

Lucia Brunel

Chemincal Engineering – ETH Zürich ∞ Stanford University

2023

By 6 AM on Saturdays and Sundays, the Zürich Hauptbahnhof is already buzzing with hikers and climbers eager to take the train to the mountains. While typically not fond of early mornings, I too found myself among them almost every weekend this summer, ready to tackle yet another summit! Through the ThinkSwiss Research Scholarship, I was fortunate to live in Zürich for three months. I conducted research at ETH Zürich with the Tissue Engineering and Biofabrication (TEB) group led by Prof. Marcy Zenobi-Wong. The lab’s mission is to develop biomaterial strategies for regenerating damaged or diseased tissues back to their functional state. In particular, a major global health challenge is the degeneration of cartilage, the connective tissue that protects joints and facilitates body movements. For my ThinkSwiss research project, I aimed to design hydrogel microparticles that could be mixed with cartilage cells and injected at a site of cartilage injury. We hypothesized that this cell-and-gel therapy would promote the regeneration of healthy, functioning cartilage tissue. Through my project, I gained experience in small molecule synthesis and purification, zwitterionic hydrogel crosslinking, microgel fabrication, mechanical characterization, cell culture, confocal microscopy, and histology. Thanks to the outstanding facilities and expertise to which I had access at ETH Zürich, we obtained promising data that inform the continuation of this work toward advancing global human health.

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Around Switzerland in eighty days

Aditya Senthil

Neurorehabilitation – University of Zürich ∞ University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

2023

Did I imagine that I would spend my summer in an idyllic Swiss village conducting cutting-edge research when I first learned about ThinkSwiss? Definitely not. Yet what was most enriching about my eleven weeks in Switzerland extended beyond the walls of my laboratory; in what was once a foreign country, the people I met and the places I visited made my experiences memorable for a lifetime.

I had the privilege of working with the Cereneo Foundation (CEFIR), an interdisciplinary clinical research organization that is connected to a neurorehabilitation clinic and partners with UZH and ETH. My research at CEFIR involved intramuscular coherence in the tibialis anterior during modulated walking, as we were investigating how the gait cycle can reflect temporal learning for applications toward stroke rehabilitation. This complicated topic coupled with the independent nature of my work was not only challenging but encouraged me to embrace the multi-faceted nature of this discipline. For example, I applied EMGs and EEGs, drafted countless lines of Python for data analysis, and utilized the various motion and gait-tracking features of the renowned biomechanics lab, CAREN. No wonder Switzerland is one of the world’s most innovative countries.

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Quantum, Gipfelis & more in Zürich

Ona Ambrozaite

Chemistry– ETHZ ∞ Johns Hopkins University

2023

Grüezi! This new word—a common form of greeting in Swiss German—followed me during my scientific and cultural explorations of Switzerland. Who could have known that doing research on quantum materials could be genuinely so much fun? The atmosphere in my host group at ETH Zürich was so invigorating, exciting, and encouraging of intellectual curiosity that I fell in love with scientific research even more. I spent the scientific time in Switzerland diving into the physics and optical properties of semiconducting materials grown bottom-up into the shape of nanoribbons (imagine: an atomically thin layer in the shape of a lane of a well-paved road). With the support of my ETH advisor and the fascinating group of PhD students and postdoctoral fellows, we were able to perform photoluminescence scans of the unique crystals and discover anomalous heterogeneous emission from specific locations of the nanoribbon crystals.

I am incredibly thankful for my host group at ETH Zürich for engaging in not only some of the most intellectual discussions I have had during my scientific career but also for welcoming me so warmly into the bouldering, hiking, and coffee hour sessions. I learned so much about the culture of Switzerland, the beautiful Swiss-German language, and the fact that the famous croissant actually has the Swiss name of Gipfeli (my favorite Swiss-German word, by the way).

As so many will echo, the hikes to the Appenzell mountain range and everywhere else in Switzerland were breathtaking. It is simply a part of being Swiss. What better way to relax over the weekend than waking up at 4 am to catch the first train to your hiking destination?

Merci vielmal to the ThinkSwiss Scholars Program for such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I cannot wait to go back and hike all the other Gipfeli peaks out there.

A summer of learning

Shirley Zhu

Immunology – EPFL ∞ McGill University

2022

I almost did not apply to EPFL’s Excellence Research Internship Program (ERIP) or for a ThinkSwiss scholarship.                                                  In my mind, working abroad in a laboratory in Switzerland for a summer was a distant, expensive dream. Looking But with encouragement from my family, I applied despite my doubts. I matched with a lab and before I knew it, my dream had become a reality with funding from ThinkSwiss. Looking back, I am extremely grateful as this past summer at EPFL was one of the most formative experiences of my undergraduate degree.

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An antihydrogen adventure

Abbygale Swadling

Particle Physics (Antimatter) – CERN ∞ University of Calgary

2022

During the summer of 2022 I had the opportunity to live in Geneva, Switzerland, for the purpose of researching at CERN. It is predicted that following the Big Bang, equal amounts of matter and antimatter should have been created; however, the universe is dominated by matter and there is much less of its counterpart. Antihydrogen is created and analyzed by the ALPHA (Antihydrogen Laser PHysics Apparatus) collaboration at CERN to look for asymmetries by comparing its spectra with hydrogen’s. To produce antihydrogen you need the opposite of the components present in a hydrogen atom: antiprotons (instead of protons) and positrons (instead of electrons). CERN is the only facility in the world that can provide a constant beam of antiprotons to the experiment day and night. For this reason, I needed to travel to Switzerland this summer to complete my research.

My personal research mainly focused on the installation of hardware to inject microwaves into the first ever vertical antihydrogen trap. This trap will eventually be used to complete the first gravity measurement on antihydrogen, a goal that all collectively researched towards this summer. CERN is a world class international facility for physics research that provides the opportunity for collaboration amongst physicists globally. I can personally attest to this as I worked closely with many other

researchers from a broad array of countries in my group. It was inspiring to see individuals travel to CERN from all over the world to work towards a single goal. While the work was undoubtedly challenging I learned more than I ever could have imagined.

My favorite part of living in Geneva was jumping in the lake after long hot summer days. I felt so lucky that the research I am passionate about afforded the chance to stay in such a beautiful and historic city. Of the many incredible experiences I had, some of the most memorable, outside of research, were the trips I took to Interlaken and Montreux. Interlaken was extremely beautiful; I went with friends and enjoyed a weekend of hiking and kayaking. The day I went Montreux was one of the most scenic day trips I have ever taken. Switzerland is a fantastic country to travel around; it is easily accessible by train and reliably provides a picturesque journey as well as a picturesque destination.

A unique summer experience

Gavin Zhu

Computational Neuroscience – EPFL ∞ Carnegie Mellon University

2022

On my flight to Geneva , I was expecting this research experience to be no different from others, but on my way back I realized I was wrong. Going to Switzerland for research is more than a change in one’s surroundings; I experienced a lot that can’t be found anywhere else.

I was amazed by the work-life balance in Switzerland. Everyone works hard, but they also enjoy a healthy lifestyle. It was not uncommon for the labmates to have lunch together by the beautiful Lac Léman when the weather was nice or to go for a hike together in the mountains. There are also daily coffee breaks where people chat about their research and all the fun activities happening around the city. Having been raised in China and studied in the US, I am used to people staying up late and working after hours, but to my surprise that was not the case in Switzerland. It is not that they don’t like their work; rather, it’s an environment free of peer pressure that allows them to have time to themselves.

Switzerland also provides a truly international community. People in my lab were from all over the world—my advisor once proudly told me that they have people from every continent except for Antarctica. My most memorable experience was hearing the colleagues sing the Happy Birthday song in different languages to one of my labmates on his birthday. It was sung in Polish, German, Italian, Chinese, English, etc. The mixture of international cultures is extremely welcoming, and I got to learn about Poland, Lebanon, Nigeria, and other places in the world.

I am thankful for the ThinkSwiss program, not only for providing funding, but also for organizing an amazing trip around Bern and Mount Titlis. Throughout the trip I was exposed to how the Swiss education system works, why the road signs in Bern come in multiple colors, the fact that old buildings are made of sandstone, and other fun facts. Moreover, it also provided a great opportunity to connect with other awardees and chat about their research and experience in Switzerland.

I am glad that I had the privilege to spend a summer doing research in Switzerland, which turned out to be one of the best experiences I have had. I look forward to going back to the cool glass building of Campus Biotech some day for future collaborations.

A transformative experience in a top research institution

Tony Hu

Biochemistry – EPFL ∞ University of Toronto

2022

August 6, 2022. 18:48. Air Canada flight AC421 arrives at Toronto Pearson International Airport. Descending from the plane, I set foot on Canadian soil for the first time in over three months. Same me, but with some notable differences. Looking back, it’s easy to see how my experience this summer could be described as “life-changing.” While I am not fond of the term, I have no doubt that my time in Switzerland has been transformative. As I unpack my gains, literally and metaphorically, over the next couple of weeks, my growth as a researcher and person will become only more apparent.  

First, let us unpack the big question. Why Switzerland?

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Switzerland on a Macro and Micro Scale

Caitlyn Mendik

Biophysics – EPFL ∞ University of Colorado Boulder

2022

When you think of paradise, you don’t usually think of a landlocked country. Yet Switzerland is my perfect paradise and I had an amazing summer doing research in Lausanne. The Laboratory of Experimental Biophysics hosted my stay at EPFL where I researched mitochondrial dyes using super resolution microscopy. While I spent my research looking at cells on a micro level, I got to experience Switzerland on a macro scale. I became immersed in Swiss culture and had many opportunities to travel around the country.

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Writing Code and Wandering in the Alps

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