Monday, December 10, 2007

Research Scholarship 2007 - Selected Final Reports

Suman Kalyan Mandal, Texas A&M University, PhD Student, Computer Sciences:

I received ThinkSwiss Research Fellowship for undergoing research internship in EPFL, Switzerland for Summer 2007. My stay and work in Switzerland was a great mix of new experiences and learning. Visiting this exotic location in the world for work was a quite different experience.

Apart from being one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the world, Switzerland has always reserved its own place in the world of Science and Technology. As a direct consequence, visiting Switzerland was more fulfilling than any other educational trip I can think of. Be it the soul opening nature or the charming culture, everything merged together to create an absolute harmony. I traveled a lot during my stay hence got to gulp different flavors of Swiss culture as well as cuisine.

Along with unmatched enjoyment, I learned a lot about many things during my trip. Even if I leave alone the learning in the research work I have done, I am still left with a lot. I learnt ways to interact with different people. I learnt a new language. I learnt to survive in a completely different socio cultural setting. To me, being able to adapt oneself in different situation is the most important skill in one’s life.
And I gained a lot in that. This trip to Switzerland added a new medallion in my fleet.
Also needless to mention, I learnt some very important lessons about being a researcher while working with my group at EPFL. I am thankful to Chris and Dr. Martinoli for their valuable advice and support.

Personally I believe, having the chance to spend a long time doing research in Switzerland with world class faculty and students in an excellent institute was a wonderful opportunity. Such trips help a lot in enriching a student’s knowledge and experiences in education and as a better human being.

Katy Thakar, Vanderbilt University, B.A. Pschology and Mathematics:

During my research stay in Switzerland, I worked with Dr. Peter Brugger at the Neurology Clinic at the University Hospital in Zurich where I conducted a study of visuospatial perspective-taking in healthy participants and individuals with brain lesions in the parietal lobe. The experience was tremendously valuable from a research and clinical perspective and was a unique cultural learning opportunity.

Research Mentality

It is difficult for me to directly compare the U.S. and Swiss research groups that I have worked in. In Switzerland, I was working on an independent research project in a hospital setting, whereas in the U.S., I am part of a larger university research lab. By working with Dr. Brugger and visiting Dr. Olaf Blanke’s lab at the EPFL, it seemed to me their research groups were more likely to investigate more abstract and rare phenomenon—such as out-of-body experiences and cognitive explanations of paranormal experiences. There also seemed to be more collaboration between researchers. More importantly, I think there was more interplay between research and clinical practices. I think in the U.S., there seems to be more of a distinction between clinical practice and clinical research. Having exposure to a different system highlighted the value of clinical insight in formation and analysis of research questions.

The only major disadvantage that I found in conducting a clinical research study was that there was no systematized way to recruit participants. In the U.S., especially in University and hospital settings, there are much more streamlined and organized procedures for participant recruitment—including large online databases of people in the community that are willing to be contacted for research studies.

Cultural Experiences

While staying in Zurich, I lived in an apartment with six other University and ETH students. I also shared an office with three practicum students working at the hospital. Not only did that help me integrate into Swiss life, but it was interesting to find out how the educational systems differ between the U.S. and Switzerland. It seems like, for the Psychology field at least, undergraduates are given much more opportunity to gain clinical and research experience. In the U.S., only graduate psychology students are permitted to work at a practicum site, and undergraduates do not have to write a thesis for their Bachelor’s degree. I think this is a huge improvement over the American system, which leaves Psychology students with a notion of psychological theory, but no real practical or research experience.

I was also able to travel around the country—to Lausanne, Montreux, Geneva, Interlaken, and Bern. I found it to be a beautiful country, and I could spend the whole day staring out of a train window. There were many artistic and musical events that I took advantage of—from the art galleries, to a Street Art Graffiti showdown, to the Montraux Jazz Festival.

I certainly plan on returning to Switzerland, at least for holiday and would definitely consider conducting summer research in future years. One major limitation for me, in psychology research, was not being able to speak Swiss German. For the most part, I was working with University undergraduates who were able to speak a good deal of English. The language barrier presented more of a problem when working with brain damaged patients. I would encourage future applicants in psychology research to consider the language, what population they will be working with, and understanding the limitations that will have on running a study independently.

The opportunity that the ThinkSwiss reseach scholarship has provided me has been incredibly valuable. Not only did I enjoy my time in Switzerland immensely, but I gained knowledge and collected data that will surely further my graduate career and beyond and hopefully add to the growing knowledge about the brain and its role in social processes.

Matthew Todd Farrell, MIT, M.S. Computer Technology:

Living and working in Switzerland had several advantages, similarities and drawbacks as compared to the laboratory environment in the US. Most of the specific experiences are taken from my own work while in a laboratory at EPFL. This makes relating accurate generalities difficult. However, I think that parts of my experiences would be similar to other students studying in Switzerland.

Before arriving in Switzerland my academic career was on a hiatus. I was in-between internships in a year off from MIT. Given this relative freedom to work I thought it would be important to extend my network into the international arena. It had been suggested to me by an acquaintance that there was a Swiss Consulate in Cambridge, MA that dealt specifically with both science and education. I credit this consulate with providing me the assistance necessary to find a laboratory to intern with at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne ( EPFL ).

The Media and Design Laboratory took me on as a research intern following my meeting with the Swiss Consulate in Cambridge. The leader of the group, Professor Jeffrey Huang, gave me a very positive impression of his laboratory at EPFL. During our conversation he told me about both his work during his time at Harvard, including the Swiss House, and the work he is pursuing now at EPFL. I found the Media and Design Lab to have difficulty finding its focus. That is, figuring out what its mission should be. To some extent the lab was adopting aspects of labs at MIT who did similar research in design influenced technology research.

Some of the similarities between the Media and Design Lab, and its counterparts in the US have much to do with how they go about getting funding and choosing research topics. At the EPFL lab funding at the time was concerned with companies proposing mutual research as opposed to the lab coming up with an invention that was patentable. In a sense they were interested in the intellectual capabilities of the lab to create value rather than than taking value from a specific device.

There were researchers in architecture, computer engineering, and robotics. The diversity of the group provided to each separate project its own unique view. My own project was an implementation of an interactive wall. The concept was introduced by my collaborator Mark Meagher as part of his thesis research into sustainable office space design. His plan included the building of an “IO Wall” ( Input Output Wall ) that monitored the activity of a person in the vicinity of the wall using a variety of sensors. For example, data collected about the range people keep from a set of shelving has possible importance when you start considering architectural design. If certain parts of the shelves are used more, or less knowing that would influence how you place magazines on that shelf, as an example.

The technical implementation of this idea gave me the opportunity to gain experience with the hardware involved in sensor networks, as well as, the software design aspects. My work in the lab touched on other work going on at EPFL in the informatics department. The most fruitful of these collaborations was with the GSN group developing middle-ware for sensor networks. I was able to use this in my own project. My own collaborators in the Media and Design lab were first and fore-most architects. This made communicating some of the subtleties of sensor network software difficult. However, I was very please with how much interest there was despite the gap in knowledge.

Later in the Spring, the editor of Tracés visited the Media and Design lab to devote an article to our newest work. This particular Tracés was a magazine intended for architects and despite that some of my work made it into its pages.The lab had only been around a short amount of time, and to do date had only one successful project to its name, “Banking of the Future”. However, there a large number of projects currently under way in the lab.

Some of the other labs had a mix of research that seemed to be more focused on highly applied research and not as much on theoretical computer science. For example, the larger and better funded groups all worked primarily with sensor networks. If I had stayed longer in Switzerland I would have liked to have collaborated more with other groups doing this type of research. With this I could have taken advantage of the large amount of research already being done in the area of wireless sensing. In summary I am pleased with my research experience as there is a tangible result produced in a forth-coming conference paper by myself and my collaborators.

Other ThinkSwiss Fellowship students were spread around the country from Lausanne all the way to Lugano. However, we successfully had meetings in Lausanne and in Bern. The first one included both a pizza lunch and museum tour of Museé Brut in Lausanne. It was great to get a chance to meet everyone. I had no idea what to expect going to the first meeting. I was delighted that everyone was very social and apt to talk about their research. A total of three other ThinkSwiss Scholarship recipients were with me at EPFL and one worked with me in the same building.

Other aspects of the stay include how living there was different from Boston. Since it is first and foremost another country certain things stand out as being different; language, food, etiquette, etc. My particular situation was unique in how removed I was from anything I am used to dealing with in Boston. The first and most prominent problem was the lack of any internet in my room. This caused a tremendous amount of stress given the distance I had from home. Luckily there was an internet café nearby with free internet and a comfortable ally-way that I could sit in to write emails late at night. I was sitting in the ally-way, because unlike most places in Boston or most major cities often-times stores close completely after 6pm and all day on weekends. This made for a very difficult situation when work needed to get done on the weekends and staying in the comfort of an apartment was not an option. I would recommend all future students who do this fellowship they make sure they have available internet, and are in a city since the country side can be quite lonely without easily available internet.

As part of this I was also startled that many of the Swiss in Vaud did not speak much english. It was still easy to get around speaking, but it was difficult at restaurants where french was the main form of communication. I had hoped to gain more experience with speaking french and think that one think I would do differently next time is spend it learning the language as well as working. This time I spent more time working than learning from outside experiences.

I happy with the connections and networks I have now built in Switzerland. I think my experience has been a very successful experience and I have contributed positively to the academic output of the lab I called my for four months. There was some difficulty for me adjusting to the lifestyle of Switzerland, and think that it was only a small problem. I am happy I went and glad to be of service to spreading science and education around the globe.

Brian Douglas Amster, University of Massachussetts, Isenberg School of Management:

Lugano is a very interesting city, not just because of its beauty, with a winding lake in the middle of beautiful mountains but also because of its diverse cultures. I would frequently hear English, German, as well as the expected Italian when walking down the street in almost equal amounts. I was very surprised to hear as much German and English as I did Italian. Fortunately I speak these languages but my Italian had gotten rather shabby from lack of opportunity and the necessity to speak it.

The day after my arrival I went back to the Faculty of Economics office and met Ricco Maggi, the Director of the IRE. The task given to me was to find out what logistics really is and more specifically what Humanitarian Logistics is. To do that I was given a great deal of material and case studies about that subject. IRE at the time of my arrival had 2 major projects on going for logistics section of the institute. The first project was the preparation of a 5 day summer course in Humanitarian Logistics to be given at the end of August, 2007. Many people from different humanitarian organizations around the world were going to attend and the IRE was trying to create a program with top notch material, speakers, and activities that would be useful learning experiences for these people. The second project was a Masters Degree Program in Humanitarian Logistics which was to begin in the fall of 2008.

Overall I liked my stay in Lugano and IRE. Lugano. It was really nice for me to practice my Italian and German again. As a direct result of my stay in Lugano I am currently taking an Italian and a German course at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst (UMASS).

I am seriously considering returning to Switzerland when I graduate with degrees from The Isenberg School of Business, and the Commonwealth Honors College at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst Massachusetts and I might enter a PhD program in one of the Swiss Universities. If I decide to get my MBA first, it may be at a US University.

Unfortunately I do not have any experience working in an US office or a University so I do not really have anything with which to compare my stay in IRE. I did however notice that unlike in US Universities where professors have posted office hours when students could come and meet with their professor and ask questions, in Lugano, I never saw any of them in the office. I do not know if Swiss professors do not have hours set aside for students or they have them and meet the students somewhere other than the office.

Switzerland is expensive and I would respectfully suggest raising the scholarship amount. I paid 400 Swiss Francs a month for rent, sharing a one bedroom apartment with a very cool Italian student. This is very inexpensive for Lugano. The rates for lodging in Lugano are usually between 500 and 900 Swiss Francs a month. Food came to about 800 Sfr a month including a coffee in the morning, eating lunch out (a sandwich and a soda) and cooking dinner in my apartment.

Although I worked 3 months, I was paid by the university for only two months. My stipend was 1000 Sfr per month, total, 2000 Sfr. The THINK SWISS scholarship was 500 US dollars per month. With an exchange rate of about 1.26 Swiss Francs to the dollar for a total of 1860 Sfr for the 3 months. Total income for the 3 months was 3,860 Swiss Francs.
The rest of the money I spent came from my own pocket.

Flight to Switzerland, student rate: = 1200 Sfr (US 850.00)
Rent: 400 Sfr x 3 months: = 1200 Sfr
Food: 800 Sfr x 3 months: = 2400 Sfr
Misc Costs: 300 Sfr x 3 months: = 900 Sfr
Laundry, amusements, etc
Approximate Costs: =5700 Sfr

Income for the 3 months: =3,860 Sfr

Recommendations to future students: Do the math and clarify how you will be paid and by whom beforehand…

Overall I had a great time in Switzerland, I am considering doing my PhD at a Swiss University. I think it is great that the Swiss government is funding the THINK SWISS research scholarship and I hope it will continue to do so for many years to come, perhaps with an increase in payments to the scholarship recipients.

Todd Mytkowicz, University of Colorado, PhD Student, Computer Science

Overall Impression:
My trip abroad is slightly different from the other students in the
ThinkSwiss scholarship in that I had a pre-established relationship
with the professor I am visiting. I have been working in a research
group back at my home university with Prof. Matthias Hauswirth for
the past two years. Skype has been our savior and allowed us to work
together, meeting in person once a year when he comes to visit us at
Boulder. Collaboration over the phone has its place and we have been
able to do great work like this, but there is no substitute for
meeting face to face with a whiteboard to discuss ideas. For this
reason, visiting Switzerland was a great opportunity for my research;
it allows me to work/live in a close proximity with Dr. Hauswirth.
We had almost daily contact and I made strides in my PhD research
because of this.
I had a great time at the University of Lugano. I am sad to see my
time here come to and end. The faculty here is very new (started
circa 2004) and all of the facilities are also new. It was great to
see the process of how a new faculty develops its research and
teaching agenda --- how it fits into the local canton. I would
highly recommend someone coming here to study. Students are engaged
and are interested in conversing on the topic of my research even
though they may not directly work in my field. Professors seemed to
also be inherently interested in lively discussions.

Comparison with my Lab:
As far as a comparison between my university back home and my Swiss
experience I have a tough time differentiating the two -- my lab back
home includes Prof. Hauswirth! I however can compare and contrast
what I have seen about the type of research that occurs here vs the
states. First, I have noticed that research in Switzerland is much
more application oriented than the funding agencies back home. They
seem to be looking for more applications of research and how it will
directly benefit people or software rather than the more theoretical/
abstract research that I see getting funding back in the States.
This has a nice bent of pushing more students to industry and thus
pushing large ties between the university and the local businesses.
I have also noticed that the university provides most of the funding
for Professor's graduate students. This means that there is less
pressure on Professors finding grants to fund their respective
students. It also has the direct implication that most PhD students
must perform some form of teaching each semester.
I would absolutely love to come back to a Swiss university when I
graduate and look for academic teaching positions. I had a fantastic
time traveling in both Switzerland and Italy and would enjoy
continuing that if I had a full time job here. The university speaks
English, which helps as I have very little knowledge of Italian. One
thing I would note is that if I were to come here to work right after
my PhD I feel I would be at a disadvantage. The reason for this is
that, back in the US, I have established myself in a community.
While that community is international, I feel that, for the most
part, the people that make it up are from US universities. For this
reason I would have a hard time breaking directly into the research
community that is here in Europe. A post-doc would be invaluable as
it would give me a year to learn what communities are important here
in Switzerland. It would also allow me to get to know Professors at
local universities, which in turn would help when I start a tenure
track position. This is something that I feel a lot of people do not
consider when coming to Europe to teach directly from a PhD program
in the States.

Financial means and budget:
It was hard to get by with the amount of money given by the
scholarship. It basically just covered my rent and a bit of my food
-- anything above and beyond was out of my very little savings :). I
was lucky in that my university advisor payed for my flight over to
Switzerland (almost 1000 dollars). This helped immensely. I also
lived with 6 other PhD students which dropped my living expenses to a
manageable amount. This was set up by the university and was a great
experience for me in that it allowed my to get know a bunch of
different cultures without leaving my flat.

As a conclusion, I really had a great time here in Lugano. I loved
meeting the PhD students here and made great strides in my research.
Thanks to the ThinkSwiss scholarship for this opportunity!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Feedback and lessons learnt in Switzerland

Dear All:

We hope that all of you are doing great and have enjoyed your research scholarship opportunity in Switzerland. We are looking forward to hearing from you and your experiences during the research stay. Please send your final report by August 31, 2007 to .

It is also important to us that you will stay in touch with the Embassy of Switzerland. We would be happy if you could provide us with any change in your address so we can keep you informed about our future events!

Petra and Pascal (on behalf of the program committee)

Friday, August 3, 2007


Work is coming to a close, with 2 weeks left. Though things are moving slowly at this point because there is a lot being waited upon (I am studying quantum dot nuclear spins), but it's been good to learn new techniques and see the place.

I've also been doing a lot of travelling both in and out of Switzerland. Last Saturday I cycled from Lausanne to Montreux through the vineyards, and then on Sunday I went to Graubünden (southeastern mountainous province, the only one with a sizeable number of Romansch speakers), took a cable car up to the Arosa Weisshorn (2653m) and then hiked from the peak down through the Carmennapass, around the Plattenhorn, up to the Hòrnli, and down with a cable car. After that I took some rides around the Rhaetische Bahn, got off at Filisur and hiked to a viewpoint of the Landwasser Viadukt.

On National Day I saw a clear forecast for the Lauterbrunnen valley so I hiked up to the Schilthorn summit (2970m) from Gimmelwald (1400m), and then rode the cable car down from the summit and took off to Schaffhausen to see the incredible fireworks display over the Rheinfall at night. Happy (belated) National Day to everyone!

Photos from Switzerland ...

Wine terraces of the Lavaux, seen from Epesses.
[ More photos from Lavaux ]

A regional train from the Rhaetische Bahn passes over the Landwasser-Viadukt, viewed from a hiking trail starting in Filisur.
[ More photos from Graubünden ]

The steep trail up the Schilthorn (2970m) near Lauterbrunnen, with the Jungfrau in the background.
[ More to come later ]

Fireworks in celebration of the Swiss national day over the Rheinfall near Schaffhausen.
[ More photos from the Zürich area to come later ]

I've also been doing much travelling outside Switzerland to various things accessible by night trains that I haven't yet seen. A round up of my weekend trips to nearby countries by train from this summer...

Alberobello and Matera, Italy
Bled, Slovenia
Capri, Italy
Graz, Austria
Ljubljana, Slovenia
Plitvicka Jezera, Croatia
Sarajevo, Bosnia
Skocjanske Jame, Slovenia
Wien, Austria
Zagreb, Croatia

I also have a ton of photos from the Zürich vicinity (including Sankt-Gallen, Appenzell, etc.) but too many, so I'll have to sort through them later and post.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Wrapping up!

I'm preparing to wrap up my research project here in Switzerland and will be heading back to the U.S. next week. I've collected behavioral data on lots of healthy controls and a few lesion patients, and my advisor and I will start to take a look at the results this week.

Had a great time in Bern last week. It was a really beautiful day, and it was interesting to learn more about Swiss-American relations. I wasn't aware that Switzerland is the protecting power for the U.S. in Iran and Cuba. And the next day, I went to the Montreux Jazz festival with some friends--there was such a great vibe and the setting on the lake was gorgeous.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Meeting at Bern and More

The meeting at US Presence in Bern was great. It was a perfectly nice day to be outside. We had a nice meeting with Mr. Lucien Aegerter followed my meeting with Mr. Marco Crugnola and a presentation by Mr. Claudio Fischer. We came to know about the swiss US partnerships amd the Siwss initiatives for Science and Technology, University system. We also had a brief discussion about the swiss education approach where college education is a right to anybody passing highschool.
Following the meeting, there was an excellent visit to the Museum portraying Einstein's life. The walk of a legend in Scientific world. It was very illuminating. The collection was impressive. I have a few photos on my web album at
Bern is a beautiful city. The city tour with Ms. Margaret was nice. Though we were a little tired by then and the heat was taking over we made a walk accross the city covering the Cathedral, the arcade and the clock tower. The 500 yr old clock mechanism is in true sense a mechanical marvel of its time.

I am towards the finishing of my work here. Working on the final array of tasks, before I present. Presently trying my hands on the real weather station to find out holes that I can mend. :)

pictures are worth 1000 words

The trip to Bern was great. Here are some of the beautiful sights of Bern. I especially like the fountain of the ogre that is eating a baby.

Tess update


My new mentor has been wonderful, both monitoring my work and giving suggestions as to which directions to focus on as I progress. I have completed the first section of the project (creating a 2D model of the knee under load) and will hopefully now move onto working on 3D models. I have just been informed that I am expected to make a lab presentation on my project before leaving, which makes me nervous, but hopefully I will have guidance creating it.

This project has been especially useful for me because the background information that I am learning for it (knee anatomy and mechanics, finite element analysis) will be very useful for a undergraduate thesis project that I am considering: beginning the design of a low-cost prosthetic knee for amputees.

The past couple weeks have led to some more exploration of the city. We were on our way to go swimming in the lake and ran into the Lake Parade (photos to come), which was 'fabulous.' It was interesting to talk to the people in a stand distributing information on the risks of drug use (including alcohol) and precautions to take. They said it is a program associated with the city of Geneva and they also work in nightclubs and other large events. I have never seen something like that in the States.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

4 weeks

We finally finalized my project. I will make a list of the top Humanitarian Organizations and then I will interview them and ask them things like number of employees they have, number of those employees are in Logistics etc. all the relevant questions have not been finalized yet. Last week I was still doing research on 2 earthquakes and comparing how the logistics performed. I am glad that I am no longer writing reports since I am not big on writing. I can’t believe that I have already been here for 4 weeks. Time flies when you are having fun.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Research Day and More

5th July was IC Research Day. It was a very interesting event for people in the Computer and Information Science to present and discuss their research work with students and visitors from places. This is held in the middle of the summer research school which is going on here. These kind of events I feel is very effective in spreading the technology and the research at the edge to our peers and enthusiasts. I think similar events should be organized more frequently in every university and educational institutions.

Work is going on great. I am also looking forward to the interesting meet in the US Embassy at Bern.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Tess update


Things are moving forward, though it is frustrating to wait for several hours for simulations to run now that I am working on a more detailed knee model in ABAQUS. The overall goal is to have many models in 2D and 3D from which to get results and measurements that are difficult to do in vivo, and then to compare results across models for accuracy. It is nice to learn something that is both biological and mechanical. I really enjoy working at the intersection of different disciplines and being able to spend time doing background reading on different topics.


I feel more at home there now, but because Jess and I live in Geneva, we don't hang out in Lausanne much. Supposedly it is quite a fun city full of students and concerts. I hope to make time to explore it more before I leave.
I have not had much of a change to just wander around campus and look into labs in different departments. I don't know how open people are here to random visitors.


Here are finally some photos from La Fete de la Musique which was a lot of fun! During the day it was nice to see families and people of all ages out enjoying the entertainment in the parks. In the evenings it was nice to dance around to peppy ska and funk in the rain.

The singer in a funk band on Saturday.

Jess in the moat in the Bastions on Sunday.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Hi everyone, I finally found an apartment. It is a very small apartment that I share with a kid from Italy who is studying here at the university, and actually has a class with Prof. Maggi with whom I am working with. Last week I basically read up on some humanitarian logistics literature. I also had to research donors and what influences they have concerning NGO (non governmental organizations). These Humanitarian organizations are wary of taken donations from Governments because Humanitarian organizations should be politically neutral, so that they can help both sides of the conflict.

In the last few days I helped with some data entry into excel for the Prof. This did not have anything to do with humanitarian logistics but it had to be done. Today I will start to look at some case studies that had to do with past disasters like the Gujarat Earthquake which happened in 2001. I will looking to the different NGOs and what kind of logistical problems they had and then compare it to other disasters and what logistical problems they ran into. I was hoping to do more hands on things here but since my experience with logistics is quite limited I guess that will be somewhat difficult.

Last weekend right after the meeting in Lausanne I went to Interlaken for an ‘open air’ concert. 40 bands played over 3 days and there where 2 stages, it was amazing.

my own bite-sized piece of Neuroscience

I spent my first day in the lab last Monday passing around the 7 grad students in the lab, and talking to them about their projects and what a 2 1/2 month intern (moi) could do working with them. The Computational Neuroscience Lab, and maybe the field in general, can be divided roughly between people who have a physics background and people who have a computer science background; research may be on models of a single spiking electron, or on systems level modeling of a particular behavior.

I was very tempted to start working with those working on single electron models because it had the most in common with my limited background. It came down to deciding to work on the project most clear to me in its scope and motivation.

So, I am testing various algorithms that perform Independent Component Analysis (ICA). An everyday example of ICA is when you focus on one person's voice in a noisy room full of competing voices; our brains are able to distinguish meaningful signals when they are superimposed with various other signals. There are many existing ICA algorithms that do the trick, but they do not perform signal processing in a way that is plausible for neurons, i.e. they neglect the temporal order of the signals. The goal is to compare the performance of several ICA algorithms that take different approaches, including one developed here that takes a biological approach.

I find thinking about modeling a brain function with a computation interesting, but the everyday work is not the same as day-dreaming about it's mysterious description. The challenge of the past week and a half has been to figure out what is important from an immense amount of literature full of technical detail. I get re-directed by talking to my grad-student advisor Claudia. She seems to have mastered reading papers for what is relevant without getting stuck in the details. If I manage to learn that skill from her, I'd will be a very grateful intern.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tess: second update: settling in

I am currently modifying a 2D model of the knee under load in ABAQUS. It takes at least half an hour to run a simulation, so I multitask by reading about knee anatomy and other background topics such as finite element analysis and other fun fun fun things.

My lab has around 20 grad students, which seems enormous compared to the 6 or so in my lab in the US. The lab is split into two different groups which cooperate on related topics, which seems fairly common around here. One group does mainly tissue engineering while the other does more mechanics. Many of the students are working on their Master's projects, which they complete in four months after their Bachelor's and Master's classes. The Bachelor's takes 2-3 years, during which students take both general science classes and classes in their major, which can be quite narrow (e.g.: micro technologies, neuroscience...). During the fourth year, students take advanced classes, but are also required to work 12 hours a week on a research project in a lab. I don't know if it would be possible for a student from the US system to do a Master's here; it might be simpler to skip directly to the PhD (~3 years).
Recently we have been eating at the Satellite, a student-run bar where they sell sandwiches, have games available, and indulge in a large collection of comic books. It's a very friendly place which reflects the bohemian student culture that I love.

Is great. We finally went night swimming in the lake last night! This weekend in the music festival, so I hope we will go exploring and discover cool little places to hang out as well as new music. (I will post photos after this weekend).

- tess

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Full Throttle - Work Meet and Move

Its been a while since my arrival in Switzerland. A lot is going on both in and outside the campus. Last week we had a great get together with other research scholars. Though the day was not the best possible in terms of weather, it turned out to be enjoyable for all of us. Thanks Todd for organizing the meet. There were six of us, me, Todd, Jess & Tess, Katy and Brian. Brian came a long way from Lugano. We talked about our experiences as we stepped in the country living etc. We had lunch and then visited the famous Collection de l'Art Brut. It was amazing. The intrigue of human mind is reflected in those lines and threads in every piece kept there.

A Piece of Art Kept in the Museum

The weekend was even more exciting. Me with a couple of friends decided to finally explore our own Lausanne :) on saturday and Geneva and Chillon on Sunday. The trip was wonderful. The pics are available in

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Week 3 is coming to an end and things are still going really well. I spent the first two weeks reviewing the literature on the relationship between possible links visuospatial transformations and perspective-taking (adopting a first or third person perspective) and the mechanism by which we distinguish ourselves from others as well as the involvement of the parietal lobe in these functions. I am just finishing up programming an experiment which examines various types of mental transformations--transformations of objects and transformations of people, which is strongly suggested to involve simulation of own-body movements to arrive in the same orientation as the target. I wll also examine if background context provides a cue as to whether to adopt a first or third person perspective when mentally rotating or taking the perspective of another person. Using questionnaires, I will also explore a possible link between visuospatial perspective taking and higher-order theory of mind type perspective taking. Anyways, that was a mouthful :) Next week I hope to begin recruiting both healthy volunteers and parietal lesion patients to perform the experiment.

On Thursday before the Research Ambassadors meeting in Lausanne, I visited Olaf Blanke's group at the EPFL--they are doing some really cool work on perspective-taking, how the mind perceives the body, and out-of-body experiences. I got a chance to meet with the grad students and sit in on a course. I didn't really have that much time to form super-strong impressions about differences between grad school here and in the States, but something I did notice was that there seemed to be much less of a 'Publish or Perish' sort of attitude. A lot of the students seemed to have a main project, and then a few other side "fun" projects they were working on and it seemed to me that they were more likely to pursue more out-of-the-box creative and unique ideas than grad students in the US. I've also noticed that with Peter Brugger--that people here seem to have a little more fun with experiments and enjoy the exploratory aspect of it. I don't know if it's because it's more competitive to get a faculty job in the US or because there is more funding here, or it's just unique to the labs that I've been to here.

Also enjoying life outside of the lab! I'm living with 6 other ETH students, so I feel like I'm really getting a sense of what it's like to live and be a student there. I'm also being forced into being a fan of the Stuttgard football team and to learn all the Germany cheers. Today I rode a bike for the first time since I was.. 8 maybe... and lived to tell the tale. And it was great meeting some of the others in Lausanne on Friday!


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Bern

Dear all,

The ThinkSwiss community reads your blogs with great curiosity and interest. We are particularly keen on hearing about the similarities and differences between Swiss and U.S. research labs and whether you think doing a master’s program or Ph.D. is an attractive option for U.S. researchers.

I would also like to inform you about the meeting at the U.S. embassy in Bern on July 13 (the program was sent to you by email). I am pleased to tell you that Presence Switzerland ( will offer your train tickets, lunch, and tour through Bern – the charming Swiss capital. Please note the meeting is only for the scholarship recipients (not for tutors or professors). Lucien Aegerter of Presence Switzerland is glad to welcome you at the railway station meeting point in Bern.

I wish you a pleasant meeting tomorrow in Lausanne and would like to thank Todd for organizing this getting together!

Kind regards,

Pascal (on behalf of the program committee).

Lab Update

Work. Read. Travel. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Basic elements to any productive life-style. Though these things happen in varying intensity at different times the pattern is consistent.

The past few weeks I have been constructing a functioning prototype of an I/O Wall ( Input/Output Wall ). The basic premise is to monitor both the objects on shelving and the activity of the person(s) taking things from said wall. A picture of my test-shelving is below,By the way, the chair is very comfortable. I don't mince words. I am hoping to get good data to use for data-mining applications to better influence the design and architecture of future buildings.

Several weeks ago our lab was visited by the editors of Tracés Magazine. They wanted to do a special issue on some of the work in our lab. One of the projects I am working on is in the magazine. If you happen by it the issue is Tracés, Issue 10 6 Juin 2007. Our work on Interactive Ceilings is on page 21. Sadly, we need more pictures but as my work progresses the available bits of multimedia consumable by the public will inevitably increase.

a bientot
Matthew Todd

Ciao from Texas

Hi there! My name is BJ and I'm in the process of completing my Master of Architecture at Texas A&M. After attending the winter 2006 semester at Universita della Svizzera italiana, Accademia di architettura di Mendrisio, I knew I had to return to this school. I will be assisting Professor Stanislaus von Moos with his research:

1). History of Swiss architecture, with a special focus on Modern movement and Cold War
2). Dialogue of Architecture and the Visual Arts, especially since 1945
3). the work of Le Corbusier and the work of Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates.

I will also be assisting with the digital image bank on the history of Modern Architecture at the Academy.

Mendrisio is a small town just south of Lugano in the beautiful Italian canton of Ticino. It is also a bus ride to the Italian border and an hour & half train ride to Milan.

I heard about the Academy while researching some of the famous architects that founded and teach at it. The professors are from throughout Europe and utilize the school for the exchange of ideas with their peers and students and, thus, for architecture, it is a serious hub of the European network. My independent study there required learning Italian (still practicing), learning about the culture, European design process and visualizing in the metric system. I found the semester there extremely challenging and loved every minute of it. I was fortunate to make connections with colleagues there that I continue to work with via Skype on project critiques and discussions. I am extremely thrilled to be able to return and re-establish connections and make new ones. My educational/professional plans whether it be PhD or another Masters definitely have Mendrisio in them.

Locarno, site I selected for my Final Studies project

I won't be in attendance tomorrow to meet with you as I won't arrive until this coming fall, but wish you a great visit and buon viaggio (good travels). I am grateful to the program committee for allowing the time adjustment and for this opportunity.

Ti voglio bene (I wish you well),

Monday, June 11, 2007

First days in Switzerland!

Here is the update of different fronts:

I am helping out with a project that is modeling the knee:
1. in 2D and 3D
2. with and without prostheses
3. explicitly, implicitly and algebraically
4. moving passively and under load
I am currently learning to use the software ABAQUS and doing background reading on knee anatomy and Finite Element Analysis in general. Soon I will start looking at the models that have already been made and will be given instructions on which components the lab would like to have improved. It seems like I will mainly be working on the 2D and 3D explicit models of the knee without prostheses.

Work environment
People in the lab and very friendly and come from a wide variety of backgrounds both culturally and professionally. Everyone I have met here so far seems very pleased with their experience at EPFL (how different from MIT!), and some are predicting that I will enjoy myself so much that I will want to come back from grad school! Actually, that seems pretty likely.

Photo of Vivapoly.

Jess and I live near the train station and have mainly been exploring the surrounding neighborhoods. On her first day here, we made the obligatory trip down to the lake to eat crepes, and we will probably return for some night swimming.

Jess on the grass by the lake (isn’t she cute?).

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Fun Week

This week was a rather fun to be here.
First of all the weather became nice after quite some time.
Next thing is there was this unique kinda fest here named Vivapoly. This was an evening full of fun and food with associations from different parts of the world having their stalls set in the campus. It was a great mix-mingle to get a glimpse of different culture and taste.

I have also been to the nice area in Lausanne called Ouchy. The lake front is awesome place to hangout and to have fun. Here are some photos of Vivapoly and Ouchy.

The Big Ground Clock

Lake Geneva



Saturday, June 9, 2007


My name is Jessica. I will be working in the Laboratory for Computational Neuroscience at EPFL this summer. I arrived in Geneva yesterday and walked around the city for a long time with my friend Tess (she is also a ThinkSwiss Research Fellow and posted a hello some weeks ago).

I'll be working with Prof. Gerstner; he suggested that we discuss a project when we meet in person, taking into consideration the work currently going on in the lab and my interests. I haven't gone in yet, but I will go to Luasanne for the first time and meet him on Monday.

I have worked in physics labs and more recently on a study at the MIT Media Lab on trust in the context of inter-group conflict. This will be my first time working in a neuroscience lab, which in an odd way combines elements of the past two since it involves thinking about/modeling behavior at the level of physical systems.


Thursday, June 7, 2007

Delayed Introductions

Hello fellow researchers.

I am a PhD student at U. Colorado in Boulder. I have been working for a year now with Matthias Hauswirth at understanding the dynamics of computer performance. He is an assistant professor at the University of Lugano and is the person I will be visiting. I say will as I am currently a summer intern at IBM Research in Hawthorne, NY. Thankfully for me, the program committee has allowed me to travel this coming fall. I am done with my class requirements (just finished actually this past semester), so I can take the fall *off* for research. It is looking like I will be around sometime in early September -- I am still finalizing the dates.

It has been great to read about all of your adventures via this blog. For those in Lugano, I may be asking advice for finding an apartment. Take care and have a wonderful summer in Switzerland!


Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Settling in

I'm now all basically settled in Zurich. To respond to a general question in a previous post, I found my apartment from the ETHZ Marktplatz which had a lot of advertisements for available living accomodations. I then contacted many of the landlords who were offering and asked about all the details and picked one that was suitable. Perhaps there is something similar in your area, if there is a university anywhere. I'm currently living in a 2-room furnished apartment at the top floor of a 3-family house at the edge of Zurich (Albisrieden) with good public transportation connections. Living in a Wohngemeinschaft (WG) would be a lot cheaper, but would also involve a lot of making sure you fit in with the rest of the community. My apartment did not come with an internet connection, which has always been the biggest hassle in all of my internships I have ever had - in almost all locations in the world, dial-up is still the only kind of internet access you can get going in a minute and in most countries, the only kind of internet connection you can get without a contract of 12 months or more. It's quite sad that 3-month visitors have no other options in most parts of the world. Fortunately here in Zurich though, I went for hotspots for a few days and then got Sunrise's "Jetzt 3 Monaten ADSL testen" offer which seems perfect for my summer here. It took a few days to set up and required a slight modification of the arrangement of the ISDN splitter box in the landlord's basement which he was okay with, so I'm all online now.

I also have a cell phone with - which is not the cheapest for domestic calls, but provides a discount for receiving calls in neighboring countries and for making calls to foreign numbers from Switzerland on the
cell phone, which is a decent option if you have friends in the neighboring countries and intend to meet them. In any case, you can all find my updated cell, fixed line, and Skype numbers at my contact page. Feel free to contact me about anything at all.

So after getting set up, I set off wandering around with the trains on Sunday, trying to escape the clouds and rain that were threatening parts of the region. I stopped at the quaint, walled medieval town of Murten, a little while away from Bern and reachable with an hourly train from Bern.

Then, I looked at a physical map marked with the train lines and decided to go to Kandersteg, a valley surrounded by alpine mountains in the Berner Oberland. It's definitely very quiet and peaceful there. A 15-minute walk from the Kandersteg train station gets you to a Sesselbahn (chairlift) which takes you straight up to Oeschinen, from where you can take a small 25-minute hike to the Oeschinensee, a beautiful tiny lake 1500 metres above sea level at the base of the snow-covered mountains. After leaving the region, I continued back via Spiez and Interlaken, and then hopped onto the Zentralbahn, a regional train system which follows the same tracks as the highly-touristed Golden Pass, so you can enjoy the same view for just being on a standard local train. Brienz looks like a nice spot to return to for watching sunsets since it is east of the lake and many mountains. I'll have to come back to this region later to explore more for sure.

Oeschinensee 1587m

Then on Monday, I went to work. ETH Zurich seems like a great place and my co-workers are nice. I'm most likely going to work on trying to do NMR with single quantum dots. It's interesting, though the project will be a little better defined over the next few days, after which I'll write a lot more about it.

Pictures of Kandersteg are here, more pictures and more about my research to come in the next post.

Information update

Dear research ambassadors,

We are glad that you are all doing fine and successfully conducting research in Switzerland. The whole ThinkSwiss community is very interested in your research experiences and reads with great curiosity your posted blogs. The exchange of knowledge and the establishment of a network between you and Swiss researchers in your labs is one of the main objectives of the ThinkSwiss research stay. (

Our suggestion is that you all meet and get to know each other soon. This will enable you to show your “U.S. research ambassador colleagues” where you conduct research and what project you are working on.

I propose that you meet on Friday June 15 the first time in Lausanne and than again on Friday June 29 in Zurich. Could Matthew Farrell coordinate the first meeting in Lausanne and Dheera Venkatraman be the contact person for the second meeting in Zurich? Please confirm to the program committee. Also make sure that you inform your research group in advance about these meetings.

Another important notice is the date for the joint event at the U.S. Embassy in Bern. This meeting will probably take place on Friday, July 13. We will provide you with more details as soon as possible. We expect you to participate in this event since Claudio Fischer (head of the bilateral research cooperation unit) will give a presentation and an interesting program has been set up especially for you.

We are looking forward to reading more about your research stay.

Kind regards,

Pascal (on behalf of the program committee).

Ciao tutti

Hi my name is Brian. I go to the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Isenberg School of Management. I arrived in Switzerland on the 28th of May and I spent a week at my grandmother’s house in Grabünden. The town she lives in has more cows than people. I love it there.

I am now at the University of Lugano where I will be working with Professor Rico Maggi on some Logistics projects. I have not met Prof. Maggi yet. When I got here yesterday he was in Bern, and this morning he is currently in a meeting. I met the rest of the people in the office however and they seem very nice.

I speak German Italian and English and everyone here speaks those languages as well, and it made me realize how much I have forgotten how to speak German and Italian. I think I can understand almost everything but I can not get myself to respond.

I’m having a bit trouble finding a place to live here. I hope I can find something soon. How did you guys find places to live? If any of you are in Lugano or are coming here let me know.


Monday, June 4, 2007

The Journey Begins

Its been a week after I have arrived in Switzerland. And there is already a whole lot of things worth sharing. First of all, all that they say about faboulous Switzerland, are actually true. Its a beautiful country with beatiful people around. I really like this place.

I received a warm welcome from the Swarm Intelligent Systems Research group upon my arrival at EPFL. It is a really nice institute. One thing about this school is it is full of life. I have been here for about ten days now. And it is going really great.

One confusing item about this trip is the trouble/benefit of being an English speaker. French being the commoonly spoken language around, a non french speaker has to face a few hiccups on the very first day. On the other side, no place can be better for learning french than a place where people actually speak. So my next challenge is to learn some French while I am here.

About work: I have already had chance to experience the integrity of research going on here. It is surprising that US students are not so much aware of some very best research going on in the other side of the world. My group mainly works on Swarm Intelligent Systems {evident from the name: and they actually work on that :)} I in turn will work on Intelligent Sensor Network within the scope of another project going on in EPFL. Its called SensorScope and its an NCCR-MICS initiative. I have just started, with an expectation and belief that I can contribute to the system and enrich myself with new experience as I walk through my internship in here.

Finish Line: Following my first post, "Stay in switzerland and no travel makes jack a very dull boy." I have been to this wonderful region Jungfrau called Top of Europe. It was a cool trip. has a collection of pictures from the trip.

Ok friends, thats all for now. Will keep posting as I move on. Cheers

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Life in Morges, Lausanne, Geneva ( long )

I have settled into a habitual number of places I tend to find myself in the Lake Geneva area; Morges, Lausanne, and Geneva. There is a pretty good diversity of urban environments and semi-urban environments around to look at.

The view from my room in Morges ( top ) is astounding. However, I have no internet in my apartment, which has led me to creatively figuring out all the free wireless spots in Morges. There are 5 that know about and 3 that I use. One is at "Fleur de Pain" on Rue Louis de Savoie, "Metropolis", my favorite pub by far, also on Rue Louis de Savoie, and at Café de la Gare at the SBB station in Morges.

In Lausanne one of my favorite places thus far has been the Flon district. It is colorful, vibrant and bohemian. There are some great clubs here to see if you are interested in hip-hop, or house techno DJs. Notice the "Stop SIDA" on the side of the building. The large condom on the other-side I thought was a nice touch.
Also, there are some great places to shop including Maniak down the street near the metro. More recently there is a circus in town in this plaza. Fwa. I wish I had a chance to see them.

I snuck into the Hotel, and took a picture from upper Lausanne across from the Cathedral. Its very beautiful from upper Lausanne. Its a good place to shop so take a bus to Saint Francois. Found some great shoes there, you probably will too. Also, they on occasion have outd0or markets among the boutiques all along Saint Francois. Fresh vegetables and the like are readily available. Its a good place to try out haggling skills in French.

Geneva has some great gardens, which on the whole is surprising to me, being used to a slightly more urbanized cities. These pictures were taken at the botanical gardens in Geneva. Worth seeing...


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Katy Thakkar intro

Hi! I'm a first-year Ph.D. student in Clinical Psychology, and I will be working with Dr. Peter Brugger at the Neurology Clinic at the University of Zurich, examining mental rotation and visuospatial perspective taking in patients with focal parietal lesions.

I just arrived in Zurich yesterday, and today spent my first day at work in the hospital. I'm trying to pick up some German while I'm here--so far, the best learning tools are the digital errors that pop up on the espesso machine (mainly because I'm highly motivated to understand them). My repetoire of German conversation-starters now includes (and is limited to): "Fill the beans" and "Clean the filter". I also learned how to say cucumber (gorken).

But very much looking forward to the research opportunity and traveling around Switzerland. And eating banana yogurt (a sadly undersold commodity in the U.S.).

My e-mail address is if you'd like to get in touch!


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Introduction to Tess Veuthey

Ahoy! I’m a rising Senior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology double majoring in Brain and Cognitive Science and Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in International Development. I will be working in the Laboratory of Biomechanical Orthopedics at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne learning to do finite element analysis of knee joint movement.

My friends Jess (who will probably write her intro blog soon) and I are living in Geneva, so if you are around there we should probably hang out. I have family in Geneva but have never lived there myself. I am really looking forward to both exploring Geneva and traveling to other parts of Switzerland and Europe.

My non-academic interests include photography, exploring, comic books, strange short movies, bubbles, etc. This feels way too much like a facebook profile. I am looking forward to the food.

- Tess

ps: my contact info is

Introduction from Dheera Venkatraman

Hi all,

I'm a first-year grad student from MIT doing a physics internship with ETH Zurich this summer. I like travelling (typically on the trains in Europe) and seeing new things... interested in cycling, hiking, and seeing interesting cultural and historic areas too. I completed an internship in Germany a couple years ago, and became somewhat familiar with getting around Europe then, but I hadn't really spent that much time in Switzerland but found it interesting, so I'm going there this time. Hopefully it should be a lot of fun this summer!

If any of you are anywhere near Zurich and want to meet and explore in the evenings, let me know. My contact information will be kept up-to-date at as I settle in. I also will have a Eurail pass, so getting to places both in Switzerland and to the nearby countries by train will be easy. I'm also hoping to find some sort of used bike somehow to do some exploring of the landscape in the evenings, but we'll see how that goes.

I'll be around starting 2-June -- have a good trip, everyone, and see you there! Feel free to call and say hi next week. I can also be reached by e-mail at dheera [at] dheera [dot] net.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Introduction from Suman

Hi All,
It feels great to get ready to board a flight bound to Zurich. Switzerland being among the finest tourist destination, has a whole different meaning. And having something new to do/think/participate in such an environment, is somrthing that makes the visit extraordinary.

I am a graduate student at Texas A&M University, USA pursuing my PhD in Computer Engineering. I belong to the Embedded Systems and Codesign Group. I will be Summer Research Intern at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in the Swarm Intelligent Systems group under Prof. Alcherio Martinoli. I will be working in the SensorScope project by MICS at EPFL.

I am really excited about the program and expecting a lot of good work there with a great environment.

I am also looking forward to see other research fellows experiences here...

Will continue to post updates and my scribblings once I land there...

My Contact:
Suman Kalyan Mandal

Introduction from Matthew Todd Farrell

I am not sure yet what to post, as there is no precedent yet but I will do my best. First off, it is a wonderful thing to be able to spend time working and researching in Switzerland. I am here at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne conducting research in sensor networks at the Media and Design Laboratory directed by Professor Jeffrey Huang. There is a lot of excitement and willingness to try out new ideas in this lab. I will be giving some more updates on what is happening around the lab in the future.

Through August 2007 I will be developing applications of sensor networks for architecture. For example, developing a distributed interactive ceiling and wall. My research also covers areas of Information Visualization, Data Mining, and Design.

In the fall I will be returning to my home university at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where I am working on my MSc/PhD in Computer Science at the MIT Media Lab.

Forgive how brief this post is. I have been here for over a month already and much has happened. I look forward to finding out more about what other research is happening in Switzerland with other summer research students. Please feel free to contact me at if you have any mutual interests, want to meet, or find out where to get good ice cream ( the answer is Movenpick ).