Monday, September 29, 2008
There has been so much going on I haven't even had time to post- Zurich and Switzerland offer incredible activities to do all the time. :) Last weekend Charlotte, Joseph, and I travelled to Berg Titlis, just outside Luzern, and about a 2 hour train ride away from Zurich....you can read more about this in Joseph's post below. It was absolutely AMAZING when the fog cleared away...who knew we had been hiking next to gorgeous mountains for most of our 4 hour hike?? Ahh yes, that's another thing we learned: when a hike in Switzerland says it will take 2.5 hours, better make that a little bit longer if you are inexperienced in hiking the Alps (no matter how fit you might think you are!) and for all the pictures you stop to take along the way! The top was snow-covered and breath-taking...better than what I had imagined. We celebrated reaching the top with some Swiss chocolate (ok, even if we did take the Rotair cable car as Joseph mentioned.) I spent a lot of the hike looking for Edelweiss, but alas, couldn't find any. The picture above is of a different flower.
During the week I focused on research (still collecting some data), rowing, and the day to day activities, and of course when time allows, planning out my next weekend. This past weekend was chock full of things! Friday night was the "Lange Nacht der Forschung", which means "long night of research". The ETH and several other universities and local companies here presented their research projects to the public in large tents that were set up along the lake in 2 locations. A ship was provided to transport you back and forth to each location to see the research. Very interesting research! A robot that can juggle, a robot that is being planned to go to the moon, a computer program/machine that scans a field for weeds and then sprays only the weeds with about 99.9% accuracy, and a study into the crime statistics of Switzerland and surrounding countries were just some of the things I saw. Of course there was also free chocolate. :)
Saturday was spent shopping and roaming around the Altstadt of Zurich, rowing, and trying to get tickets to one of the Zurich film festival movies...which ended up being sold out, but Joseph got to go. Sunday was also very busy with Ruderschule, church, climbing up Uetliberg, and watching one of the Zurich film festival movies called "Noodle". I would highly recommend the film! Very well done, and very deserving to be part of the film festival. The hike up to Uetliberg before seeing the film certainly wiped me out so that I was glad to sit in a movie theater. With such a steep incline, it's no wonder I'm feeling it in my legs today... but this Uetliberg hike was certainly no comparison to Titlis, which was an unending upward climb. :)
alright, back to work!
Schöne Woche miteinander,
Thursday, September 25, 2008
The Great Toboggan Ride
This past Saturday, Charlotte and I took an intriguing medley of trains and automobiles to the resort of Atzmännig to have a go on the giant slide. They've rigged a 700-meter-long toboggan run to keep things alive on the slopes during the summer. According to Charlotte, this is what Europeans do when they can't ski. Well, I've never skied, but this has to be just as fun. If you want to experience it second-hand, I've included a short video below.
In case you can't tell, I had a really good time. In addition to the slide, we got to experience the Swiss countryside; rather than sit and wait for a couple of buses, we walked to the next stop and got to see some gorgeous scenery. You can even see the southern end of the Zürichsee from one of the bus stops (below). I have a few more pictures here.
Sunday, Katherine, Charlotte, and I went to Mt. Titlis as planned. We met up the main station and took a train through Luzern to Engelberg, which lies at the foot of the mountain. The four of us (Katherine's friend from Italy came too) hiked from Engelberg up to Trübsee, then took a chair lift and the rotating Rotair gondola up to the summit. The hike started off well, but pretty soon we were completely engulfed in a thick, cold fog. Visibility stayed within 20 meters for a couple of hours, but when we the fog finally cleared . . . oh my. We went from hiking in oblivion to this--> literally within seconds. We managed to take a few group pictures, thanks to a friendly local, but then the clouds rolled back in. The ride to the top was pretty entertaining, thanks to a tour group that was very appreciative of the scenery. As Katherine mentioned, it's pretty cold at 3000m, but the view was well worth it. On a clear day, you can see several other famous peaks from the heated terrace or the patio outside. When the clouds calmed down, the view was spectacular. Rather than post the rest of my pictures--tempting as it might be--I'm going to link to my album. You'll find some pics there from every stage of the trip, including some adorable Swiss cows and the man-made cave inside Titlis' glacier (that we almost didn't get to see). They tell the story better than I can, and with blog-friendly brevity.
It was quite a day; in fact, I was so tired that I slept most of the way there and back.
Last week I broke through the "orientation" phase of my internship into the "doing stuff" phase, which comes as a huge relief. You can only read so many research papers and technical books before that section of your brain starts to melt. As of yet, I haven't done anything terribly complicated. Most of my days were spent setting up an experiment on the calorimeter in the morning and performing different analyses on our prospective feed product while the experiment runs. For the most part, I work without supervision. I don't really need supervision at this point, so that's a definite plus.
The best part of my work so far has been the surprises. I find that a process or a measurement or a reaction that goes as planned can be nice, but they just don't have the same excitement as a completely counter-intuitive reading from your machine or a sudden, unexpected change in your system. I've encountered a few hurdles, including a complete software meltdown in the calorimeter. I thought I had fixed the problem, but it took 3 consecutive 8-hour experiments to find out differently. Strangely, I don't mind at all. I came to here to experience the kind of research with which I will probably be involved in graduate school. I believe that I've found that here . . . and I like it.
Until next time,
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Gruetzi! Things have been slow here at work this week, with me just reading things and getting a broad overview, so I will tell you about the places I've been to last weekend. The weather wasn't so ideal...very cold, rainy and misty, and foggy! Saturday I spent the morning rowing on the Eglisau, which is a river that runs very close to the German/Swiss border. It is just beautiful there!! I think I've written this before- that I joined the Seeclub Zurich for my time here so I can continue to row and train. Most of the other rowing clubs in Zurich train on the Zurisee, which we do as well, but the conditions aren't as perfect as they are at Eglisau. On the Zurisee you have to watch out for sailboats, motorboats, and the rather large ships that transport cars and passengers from one side of the lake to the other (so you don't have to drive all the way around). The Zurisee does have some good points though- if you row down far enough, you pass the Lindt Chocolate Factory, and inhale the yummy chocolate smell! Seriously, the smell is incredible...maybe a marketing trick to get you to eat the Lindt chocolate. ;) Above is a picture of the bridge under which the boathouse in Eglisau is- you can just see the very blue/green water!
On Sunday I desperately wanted to go hiking somewhere...but since the weather was being stubborn, I settled for Einsiedeln, which is a little south of Zurich beyond the lake. The views from the train of the lake were impressive enough! The higher in the train we climbed though, the harder it was to see much of anything beyond 50m. Luckily, in Einsiedeln there is a very impressive kloster called Kloster Einsiedeln, and I spent some time exploring inside. The description in my guide book says, "Records of pilgrims flock to the probably finest example of Baroque architecture in Switzerland. A pilgrimage on the Jakobsweg to the Benedictine abbey with the Black Madonna and the monastery is currently experiencing a veritable renaissance." So needless to say, it was impressive!! Inside there were many figures of a Black Madonna- which were different from the many white Madonna figures I have seen in my travels. I asked someone what the significance of this was and was told that many years ago, the Madonna was represented with fair skin, but after time, the soot from the candles dirtied her face to be almost black. After many years, the figures were all cleaned, but the townspeople were so used to the black Madonna that they insisted she be kept with a black face. Hence, the kloster being filled with the black Madonna figures.
On Monday afternoon I had off from work, along with the rest of Stadt Zurich for Knabenschiessen. I met up with other ThinkSwiss researchers (Charlotte and Joseph), and as Charlotte mentioned in her post, the festival was similar to a huge carnival! Lots of delicious things to eat, things to watch, and fun rides to go on. I'm not exactly sure of the history of the Knabenschiessen myself, but Switzerland traditionally has a history of excellent marksmen and sharp-shooters as the men in the army would perch from atop mountains and hills to protect their valleys and country many, many years ago. A twist on this tradition is now called the Knabenschiessen, which is a contest for the youth in Zurich (boys and girls) to practice their shooting skills. Whoever has collected the most points at the end of the competition is crowned "King of the Festival". Unfortunately, we didn't get to see any of the competition, as it was held Saturday and Sunday, and Monday was just the handing out of the prizes. But we did see a parade with all the participants, which was cool!
This weekend we're taking on Berg Titlis, which is close to Luzern and Pilatus....it's going to be cold at the top (minus 3 degrees Celsius!), so I'm off to go buy some gloves and a hat!
Have a nice week everyone,
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Yesterday, the 3 Americans in Zürich (Katherine, Joseph and I) met at the Knabenschiessen to wander around. I am not too sure of the history of the event (so maybe I'll let Katherine explain), but I am certain that the carnival- featuring rides, games, and LOTS of greasy food stands- was one of the biggest I have ever seen. Katherine and I rode the "Star Power" ride in order to get a great view of Zürich, and we all enjoyed some delicious wurst.
On Sunday I went to Luzern specifically to see the Verkehrshaus- the Swiss Transport Museum. It was definitely one of the most interesting, thorough, and informative museums I have ever visited. The exhibits also attempted to present some of the social and environmental issues involved in transportation, so overall it was excellent. Anyone who has ever used any means other than their feet to move from place to place should visit this museum. There was even a "Swiss Transport Policy Game" where one reads about 12 different policy/construction options, then has 30 seconds to select which options should be adopted, limited by 100 million Swiss Francs. I was surprised that the young children were not as eager to play the game as I...
Below are some pictures from Knabenschiessen and Luzern. The kind people of ThinkSwiss requested I put a link to some of my other pictures on the blog-so this link is for pictures of our Scooter Tour on 21.8.08 in Bern. You can also view my other photos from here. My pictures will probably be more interesting than my writing...
A fraction of the planes on display at the Verkehrshaus.
This is a ferocious swan who tried to bite my hand off near the Chapel Bridge because I was holding bread. I threw my roll at it and ran away.
On the ride at Knabenschiessen- huge carnival in the background!
Friday, September 12, 2008
First of all I would like to state some of the positive attributes of the stay, in terms of research and otherwise. First and foremost is the Swiss life, culture and its natural beauty. The environment it self had certain kind of soothing experience. May be it was the mountains and the running water, but it was all very good. The people I worked with were very dedicated professionals. The lab setups, the infrastructure and the system all seemed to be very appealing. Another positive point that I would like to emphasize is the size of the cities and their organization. I live in Chicago and it is kind of huge place. Basel on the other hand was quite small well organized town which was kind of easy to manage even though I had not lived there for long.
Now coming to few negative points or some things if present/not-present would have made my life much easier. One of the challenges that I had to face many times was that of the language. Every thing seemed to be in German, even the road maps and other essential stuff, like groceries etc. The other challenge that I faced, was the new working style and environment. The working attitude at Eth is a bit different, than the working environment in Chicago. I will say more about this in the document.
I found my colleagues to be very professional, very dedicated and very knowledgeable in their fields. I had the chance to work with physical statistician and mathematicians and was integrated very nicely in the team. We had kind of weekly meetings related to research I was involve, discussing the possible solutions to the problems arising and the ways to practically confirm the theoretical assertions.
I found the research team in Swiss to be somewhat similar to the team I work here with, in US. My team is always very helpful with anything work related (not to mention non work) and fortunately I found the same in the Swiss. The research mentality however, differed in some areas (such as how to approach the problem or confirm a theory etc), but that was partly because the interdisciplinary nature of the research that I was involved in the Swiss. Nevertheless, the research experience was very fruitful, and I learned a lot, acquired new skills and made a lot of new connections. I enjoyed my work at Eth Zürich.
I am currently in a PhD program, so I would rather finish my program here at US. Had I not started my PhD here at US, and the quality of research that I witnessed in Switzerland, I would have certainly considered pursuing PhD at any reputable Swiss university. Nevertheless, after my PhD if I get an offer for post-doc or a faculty position, I would seriously consider it.
My institution did not apply for my visit visa. I am citizen of Pakistan, and live in the US on student visa. I needed a visa to enter the Switzerland and I applied for it from Chicago, USA. I was told during the visa process that it would take around 4 to 6 weeks, and I had some trouble because my appointment date had already started while my visa was being processed. Anyhow, I got my visa in about 6 weeks and every thing went just fine.
The accommodation in Basel was difficult to get at first. I suppose it was due to the football games that were going on at the time I was looking for accommodation. It was extremely difficult to find a place at first, partly because there were very few temporary rentals available and partly because very few people replied back to my email in English. Anyway, I was supported by the nice admin people at Biosystems Science and Engineering Dep’t Eth Zürich. They contacted a few people and forwarded the links for the accommodations that were available at that time. I was lucky enough to get a room just 2 days before my flight.
I spent around 1200 to 1500 CHF per month during my stay in Switzerland and I stayed in Basel for little less than 3 months. In addition to the Thinkswiss, I was supported by the Biosystems Science and Engineering Department, Eth Zurich Switzerland.
Lastly, I would again like to thank ThinkSwiss organizers, Presence Switzerland, and the Swiss Embassy in Washington. I had a wonderful, enjoyable and unforgettable experience.....
Parallel Algorithms and Multimedia Systems Laboratory,
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering,
University of Illinois at Chicago, IL USA.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
The past 3 days I was busy with the Smart Energies Strategies Conference coordinated by the Energy Science Center of the ETH here in Zürich. It was tiring, but an overall excellent conference!! I learned a ton, which made the early mornings and late evenings setting up and closing down the conference definitely worthwhile.
The first day involved a panel discussion with several well known climate scientists, including as I mentioned in a previous post, Dr. Pachauri, who is the IPCC Chairman. You can read an interview with him from the conference here- but unfortunately I think it is only in German- and you can also find a link to a podcast of his talk (in English) at the bottom: http://www.ethlife.ethz.ch/archive_articles/080908_Pachauri/index/
The first session was on global challenges that we face today, such as climate change and access to resources. I particularly enjoyed the talk by Justin Adams of BP, who stressed the fact that not all solutions to climate change would address all the challenges, and that separate solutions are needed depending on if the challenge is global, regional, or local. A poster session followed this first panel of talks. The poster entitled, “Integrated Assessment of Swiss CO2 mitigation policies- focus on the residential sector” was of great interest to me. The research combines an energy model with an economic model, and analyzes the effects of introducing a policy or economic measure, such as a carbon tax, on carbon emissions, and offers suggestions for current policy. I was able to ask a few questions, as I am sure I could find this information helpful for my further research here at the ETH. The second session of the day was on transportation systems…not something I am particularly interested in, but nonetheless informative and important to climate and environmental policy.
That evening was the conference dinner, at the Zunfthaus im Waag, downtown in Zürich. We had traditional Swiss food- Rösti and something that resembled the German Schnitzel- although I forget the correct name for it. Delicious!! My dinner table neighbors- a student at the EPFL in Lausanne, and a representative from the Swiss Federal Office for Energy- and I chatted all night about policy and models and feasible solutions, etc. It was great networking for me, and a great introduction into Swiss policy and politics on a national level, but also a canton (or state) level.
The second day began with a panel on Smart Conversion Systems, including a great talk by Dr. Larry Kazmerski of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado. A very entertaining presentation on the past, present, and future of the solar thermal and solar PV field- complete with videos and props! I spoke with Dr. Kazmerski afterwards on the possibilities of solar thermal in the US, which ties into some work I did on renewable heating and cooling policies back in the states this past year. The afternoon session was on Smart Grids, where Professor Goran Strbac spoke, among others, on the electrical grid system. This was very helpful for me, as I have never really been able to grasp a visual image of what the “grid” really is…but Professor Strbac succeeded! After this the second poster session began. I had a chance to look at all of the posters, and especially liked the one titled, “Thermally driven residential heat pumps based on integrated organic Rankine cycles.” There was an Apero at the end of this second day, but I was kind of tired, so I did not stay that long.
The third and final day was on Smart industries, services, and buildings, and energy economics and policy design. Professor Manfred Morari and Dr. Jürg Tödtli were my favourite presentations. Their talk was on how weather forecasts enhance comfort and save energy. The most surprising fact that I heard from the conference was in the talk from Dr. Richard Tol on the economics of climate change. He said that despite the thousands of scientific studies and analysis done on climate change, there have only been 13 economic studies and analysis done on climate change!! I could not believe this…With the potential for jobs and economic growth from the renewable industry alone, I thought surely more economists would be interested and have performed more than 13 total studies!!!
All in all, the conference was a huge success, and I hope to be able to come back and participate in 2 years when the conference will be held again.
So much for now,
Saturday, September 6, 2008
This first week has been quite an adventure. I'm splitting my time between two research groups that are working on two different sides of one large project. Most of my lab time was spent in the concrete bunker monitoring a small pilot-size reactor unit that produces methane. A typical experiment begins first thing in the morning and ends around 4 PM, leaving plenty of time for coffee. If something goes wrong, we stay until much later (6:30 on Wed.). Funny things have been happening, and they ended up shutting the whole unit down on Thursday because of wild pressure fluctuations in the system. They spent all day Friday taking it apart piece by piece and cleaning everything. The smells were . . . . powerful. They found some interesting (read: gross) brown solids in the filters that have unknown origins. Hopefully, this thorough flushing will bring operation back to normal for next week.
The remainder of my research is a variety of applications in analytical/instrumental chemistry. The previous intern is leaving next week, so I get to take over her experiments with a differential scanning calorimeter (DSC). The research group here is using the DSC in a novel way, so the work I'm doing has little background literature with which to check myself. (If I really knew what was going on, I might call it pioneering.) In addition, I'm running various analyses of biomass/organic liquids that they might want to run through their reactor (this won't take up much of my time, though).
Finally, I made a huge mistake: I left my football boots at home. PSI has a soccer club that plays indoor and outdoor, both once a week. We went during lunch on Wednesday to the gym in Würenlingen, where we played for well over an hour. I played in my Aasics, which are fine for a gym, but not so great for (wet) grass. I found that this is my favorite way to meet people, so I'm joining the basketball club too. I was worried, at first, what my supervisor would think of what ended up being a 2.5-hour lunch break, but he came too. Good times, great exercise. This is looking like it will be one of the highlights of my trip.
With that, I'll sign off. Until later,
Friday, September 5, 2008
Hello to everyone again!
Things are slowly but surely starting to fall into a routine, which I am very happy about. Last week was slightly chaotic finding an apartment, getting things organized, figuring out my way around the town, finding a bicycle, forgetting that the supermarkets close at 8pm and are not open on Sunday, etc. Last weekend was spent meeting up with some rowing friends from Germany, which was fun to see them all again.
This week I started at the ETH, in the Energy Science Center. It is very exciting to be a part of the research and action going on at the ETH! The Energy Science Center is the umbrella group that facilitates cross-departmental collaboration between the other departments of the ETH focusing on energy and environmental issues. The ESC also works closely with other industrial and academic partners to share research, cooperation, and ideas in the field of energy. As of now, I have two tasks. One is to assist with a conference that will take place next Monday-Wednesday, called Smart Energy Strategies. You can find more information about this here: www.esc.ethz.ch/sms08. As I was looking through the program of speakers, I was excited and thrilled to see such a high-level of speakers and panelists! There will be over 300 participants at the 3 day conference, so we are going to have our hands full next week, I think. Aside from the speaker panels and presentations, there are also poster sessions which present the work of the students; I cannot wait to have the chance to look at these and ask questions. I hope there will be time to see everything!! When the conference is over and wrapped up, I will begin the second (and majority) phase of my work here. This still has to be more finely tuned, but it will involve working with a program called Energy Navigator and modelling energy scenarios for various cantons and for all of Switzerland itself. I am curious to see how this program works, and how the results can be translated and adopted into a form of energy policy.
Since I am an avid and competitive rower back în the US, I have already found a new rowing home for my time in Switzerland. I will be training with the Seeclub Zürich, and yesterday was my first chance to meet some of the team members. We drove out to the Eglisau, where a BEAUTIFUL river runs through the cutest town I think I have ever seen. The water was a clear blue. Absolutely breathtaking! We rowed for about 80 minutes and then put the boats away and drove back to Zürich. This Saturday I will be meeting the head coach and will attend a grill-fest hosted by one of the members. Sounds like fun! Saturday night is also ,,Lange Nacht der Museem", which means that the museums in Zürich are open to the public all night long, and best of all, for just a small fee! There are too many museums to visit in just 1 night, so I think I might have to choose just 2...going to be a tough decision.
I will post on Monday to let you all know how the conference is going!
Have a great weekend (or, schoenes Wochenende!)
I feel my research in Switzerland was more thorough and to the point then research I have conducted in the U.S. We were able to get so much done within a few months. This could be partly due to the fact that I was part of a team when I conducted research in the U.S. and I was working one-on-one with a Professor in Switzerland. Upon my arrival in Basel, I was immediately introduced to other researchers in the Psychology department at the University. I was walked through the different experiments that I would be assisting with and quickly felt a comfort with the projects that I'd be working on and the people I'd be interacting with. The Professor was very knowledgeable in his field and was easy to work with. I enjoyed this greatly. I have worked with people similar to this in the U.S. but rarely does an individual get one-on-one time with a professor for such a long duration of time when you're still at the undergraduate level (in the U.S., that is).
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Some of the highlights of the trip was of course using the public transportation system, the trams, buses and trains! It was easy to get around the city and experience the ambience.
The Thursday evening presentation about the Swiss health care system and the 2 hour of sightseeing of Bern by scooter were informative. I was impressed by the chocolate treats and the leckerli. Before the summer school I was able to meet up with my brother in law who lives across the border in Rosenau, France. We spent a day touring the Koenigsburg Castle, Riquier and Kaysersburg, tasting wine and macaroons. Incidentally, for those of you who want know, he is the proud parent of a beautiful daughter born 2 days after I returned from Switzerland.
All in all, the experience in Switzerland was a blast! I can't wait to come back.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
My first impressions of Zürich are not quite what I expected. I had read that it was an "industrialized" city with hidden historic roots, but this is not how I would choose to describe it (based on what I've seen so far). I see Zürich as clean, efficient, and commercial- but with enough history and diversity that it could hide its more modern character, if it chose to. I have to agree with Ryan, though- the Hönggerberg campus rivals modern industrial facilities.
So far, I have had a lot of fun getting to know my co-workers. We went hiking the weekend I arrived, and last weekend enjoyed the Langstrasse Festival and a housewarming party. On Fridays, after a hard week of work, we go out for a beer or five. I find I enjoy the Swiss Klosterbräu beer a lot more (maybe too much) than the pale lagers and pilsners of the US . That statement will probably solicit some serious anger from my American friends, but I am sorry- it is my preference.
As far as my research, we have data for the most recent vehicle purchased by 300 Swiss households, as well as socio-demographic information about those households. I am looking at the data right now to find any interactions that may stand out (e.g.- vehicle size vs. household size and household income). It is a very interesting and pertinent topic, and I would be curious to see how the Swiss result might compare with a similar US study. In the meantime, I think I will try to pick everyone's brains to get my own sense of some of the less obvious differences between US and Swiss lifestyles, and why these variations exist. I am very interested in how and why things develop the way they do, and the differences between US and European cities is really fascinating to me. Luckily, this research group includes not just engineers, but others with backgrounds in geography, sociology, and history. They come from Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Pakistan, and America. When I have a better understanding of the education system here, hopefully I can devote an entire post to the dissimilarities.
I haven't made any great treks across the continent yet as some of the other students wrote about- but I did go to the zoo on Sunday! One of the penguins was sitting on an egg! I read the incubation period for a penguin egg is 52-58 days, so I will definitely be here to see the baby penguin. I am very excited, as penguins are my all time favorite animal. The arrival of baby penguin could mean a season pass to the zoo for me. There are also some giant Galapagos tortoises, so I saw these in person for the first time this weekend. The biggest one looked nearly 6 feet long while laying down, and easily weighed 500 pounds. A baby Galapagos tortoise was born in March, but will take 40 years to mature to full size. Zürich Zoo can be confident that its inhabitants are a steady or increasing population. There are some pictures online, but none of them show the perspective of this creature to a human, rock or tree, so I will post one here. It was a very popular attraction, as you can tell by the partial humans in the tortoise photo. The man on the left was about 5'7".
The only downside so far- the Schneeleopard was nowhere in sight...
I feel I should also mention, on behalf of a coworker, that the apes have appallingly small accommodations compared to the lions and bears. Perhaps this is because the latter two are considered more violent. The 10 plus elephants could use more space as well. The lions are enjoying more home square footage per individual than most Europeans, I think.
Okay then, enough about the zoo- back to work!
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
ETH itself was very impressive as a research institution. The building I was working in was fairly new and with very modern looking wood and glass architecture, with a great view over the city and the lake from the higher elevation on the right bank. The facilities were all excellent, just from what I initially saw at my own office building. When I went to their extended science campus at Hönggerberg, I was in complete awe of what they kept there. There was an extensive collection of the latest equipment, stuff that I thought only industry would be able to afford.
The students and professors were very friendly and open to helping me on whatever project work I would be pursuing. They also all spoke very good English, which was fantastic since I have no background in German. Apparently any studies done at ETH past a bachelor’s degree are taught in English, so it is required for the students and staff to have a good grasp of this language that is not even an official language of Switzerland. It reflected the idea that ETH is an internationally oriented university, with requirements for its own students to study abroad as well as a welcoming attitude towards visiting students such as myself. There were also good connections with industry, as indicated to me by a whole day event called Industry Day that occurred while I was there that had well-known visitors such as ABB, Siemens, as well as academic scholars from around the world who were associated with ETH.
There was not much I could contribute in terms of research knowledge to the group that was hosting my Rice professor and me, since I was just a rising third year undergraduate and not well-versed in the latest accomplishments of their work. However they did show some interest in the projects my professor and I were pursuing, and the PhD students were particularly good at coaching me through the processing of these devices. I was also able to find students in other lab groups that collaborated with our host group, and these individuals were also very helpful. All the research groups there that were part of the “Micro and Nanosystems Platform” seemed close-knit and shared their equipment and knowledge very frequently. Back home, it seems like the research groups are all very much independent of each other, with the professor actively working with all of his students, even undergraduates, but not as much with other professors or industry. Maybe I’m just speaking from a Rice perspective, which means coming from a small, teaching-focused university with not much emphasis on research. ETH is fairly large and has a rich history in research, going back to Albert Einstein in his day. The professors are very much the head of the research groups, but they interact less with their subordinates and are mostly busy maintaining their extensive network with the rest of the department and outside institutes and companies. The PhD students take the Masters students as their close protégés, and have them mostly working on projects related to their own thesis work. I think that overall this is a very efficient method of running a research-focused community.
What I probably enjoyed the most about
There were very few dislikes that I could list about the trip. Maybe if
This trip actually gave me some consideration to getting a PhD in engineering, and also possibly to get one at ETH or other schools in
I want to thank ThinkSwiss for the lifetime opportunity of visiting Switzerland, I want to return to her someday with my family. Thank you.
Michelle Matteson FNP/GNP, PhD student
Monday, September 1, 2008
Although I originally had planned to write this on the 17-hour journey back home, with ideas fresh in my mind, I’m now starting to write a week later back in Houston. This week of transition back into American university life has let my ideas mature and has also deepened my appreciation for everything Swiss.
My stay in Switzerland of course exceeded my expectations. The Swiss research environment, from what I experienced at the EPFL, promotes and encourages quality research. I loved the Swiss geography, especially the mountains with the lakes, and was impressed with most cultural aspects, such as transport, city architecture and layout, and recycling.
The geography, transport system, and international community all positively impacted my experience. I fell in love with the Swiss Alps and lakes when traveling around the country; as an active traveler, the endless possibilities for bike tours, hiking trails, and other outdoor activities amazed me. I consider all that I did only a preview, and all possible thanks to Switzerland extensively developed and reliable transport system. Public transport in Switzerland enabled me to go almost anywhere (in Switzerland). I didn’t need a car, car insurance, gas, or directions—all I needed was a train ticket. In addition to a beautiful setting and means of transport, Switzerland also fosters a diverse international community. Never have I heard so many different languages in so little time (and usually in lab)! For me this diversity translated to a great influx of ideas (for research) and money (for the economy).
I found some challenges, mostly unique to my circumstances. As Switzerland is a country of quality, the cost of living is high, especially for my student intern budget. To maximize my weekend travels, I cut down on other costs. My summer diet was by no means gourmet and only included a few dinners out. Likewise, I didn’t do any shopping (except for food). This was alright and manageable for the three months I was there. I also found the limited store hours sometimes frustrating. Shopping became more of a planned effort as I needed to schedule it. Research doesn’t have standard or set hours, so I wasn’t guaranteed time to get to Migros or COOP that day if I needed to. Someone who I met, incredibly frustrated with the Saturday crowds, termed this as a “stress on society”. What I also found challenging was social integration; however, considering my situation, this was expected. I lived in my own studio, my presence in Switzerland was transient, and I was a foreigner. The lab members (only one Swiss) were friendly and welcomed me, but I had few acquaintances outside of lab. My understanding of Swiss culture as it pertains to the Swiss is still mainly that of an outsider.
I found Swiss research to be very competitive with that of American institutes. The key differences between my two labs that I noted were the ratio of post-docs to doctoral students, the availability of equipment, and the personnel. My understanding is that Swiss institutions generously provide for researchers. The ratio of post-docs to doctoral students at the EPFL was much higher than the American average, which provides better mentoring support for the students and more experienced researchers for the faculty. The amount equipment accessible for my lab was impressive. That the lab even had its own lab manager and histologist was impressive. Maintenance details, which can be distracting for a post-doc or doctoral student, were minimized. The lab director and a good number of the post-docs and doctoral students were American, so I didn’t see any notable difference of research mentality. The one complaint, the real disadvantage to research in Switzerland was when we had to deal with the machine shop (issues with the speed of Swiss labor, one lab member had to wait months for a part to be made).
I would love to vacation in Switzerland, I think Switzerland would be a great place to live, and I am strongly considering doing my PhD there. I’m not yet ready, however, to start a PhD program immediately after my undergraduate studies, and not quite sure yet what I’ll be doing. Either way, it’s extremely likely that I’m coming back!
I'm now in my fourth day in Switzerland and have finally settled in. I spent my first and second day here sleeping off my jet lag. The third I spent touring Zurich on foot looking for a church. I started work this morning, but have yet to do any real work, so let me give you a little background on what I will be doing this fall.
The Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI) is a federally-funded research facility that is loosely associated with ETH Zurich and EPFL. A variety of sciences have representatives here investigating a surprising number of fields. More info, if you're interested, is available on Wikipedia. I'm working in the general energy research department in Dr. Frederic Vogel's group. For several years, his group has studied the conversion of biomass feedstock (wood chips or manure, e. g.) into a useable fuel product. The general idea is to take what would otherwise be a waste product and turn it into something that could be used as a heat source, to produce electricity, or even power cars. Their project is unique in this field because they use supercritical water as a reactant/solvent.
The assignment for my stay here is multifaceted: develop catalyst testing protocols that could be used to identify likely candidates for testing in one of the reactor set-ups they have running; analyze a "real" feed solution for levels of contaminants; help run the online reactor unit and collect data. Today I was given a tour of the facility and met most of the people in the research group. I had plenty of time to ask questions and get acquainted during our coffee breaks and long lunch. The group is German and Swiss doctoral students, an intern from Crete, various techs and post-docs (of undetermined origins), and me. My immediate supervisor is in the third year of his doctorate program and a chemist by education. One of the things that I love about this project is the mix of physical/biochemistry and engineering. Those three don't overlap as often as you might think. More on that as my project gets going.
One last thing: you might have asked, "where is Villigen?" Why, it's in the middle of nowhere! I found it on Google Earth before I left, but it was still a surprise to take a bus through smaller and smaller towns/hamlets out into the country and wind up at a state-of-the-art research facility that shares the street with a dairy farm and corn fields. I'm not entirely sure, but I think it's because of the particle accelerators (one of which I got to see today). Anyway, the closest major city is Zurich, which is at least an hour away by public transport. I'm within biking distance of the German border. That makes it a little more difficult (and expensive) to travel, but hopefully I'll have some fun to report later on. Now, I'm sorry that ran so long. I'm off to get some chocolate.