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