EPFL gives 3,000+ future students a behind-the-scenes look
At this year’s EPFL Information Days, held on 21–23 November, high-school students attended presentations on the various disciplines at EPFL as well as expert talks on cross-disciplinary subjects – before getting hands-on experience with the research being conducted at different labs. The goal is to help these young students choose a career path. We spoke with some students who took part in the electrical engineering, chemical engineering and chemistry workshops.
Some 30 high-school students watch a large screen where flashing colors indicate neural connections, while two PhD students hover over an echography device. At this workshop given by the Electrical and Electronic Engineering section, one of the students asks the researchers: “What’s the difference between an engineer and a doctor?” The reply comes from section head Jean-Philippe Thiran: “As engineers, our role is to develop systems that let doctors ‘see’ what’s invisible to the naked eye. But we would never make a diagnosis.”
This is just one of the workshops held this year during EPFL Information Days, a three-day event organized every fall by the school’s Study Programs Promotion Service and various sections. The goal of the event is to show high-school students what goes on in research labs, illustrate the sometimes-surprising links among different disciplines and describe the school’s 13 Bachelor’s programs. The event has become increasingly popular – over 3,000 students signed up this year.
Participating students can attend a host of talks and presentations and take part in a hands-on workshop, where they spend a full day visiting labs in the section of their choice. Researchers at the labs demonstrate the technology they’re developing as well as potential applications. “The Information Days are really important for our section because students don’t necessarily have a good sense of what electrical engineering is. But when they see exactly what we do, they get really excited. And many of those who attend our workshop end up enrolling in one of our degree programs,” says Thiran.
Florence Aubert, a high-school senior in Morges, wanted to become an airline pilot when she was younger. But today she’s considering either micro or electrical engineering. “There are so many things that look interesting,” she says, after discovering the myriad of new devices being developed in this field: connected objects, a watch that analyzes your heartbeat in real time, a giant touch screen and a system of cameras designed to film artists on stage with unparalleled quality.
Seeing how the science is applied
Yasmina Jemini, a senior at Provence high school in Lausanne, smiles broadly as she watches a demo. She’s always enjoyed figuring out how things work and would like to go into medical robotics, but she hasn’t yet selected a degree program. However, she does know she wants to study at EPFL. “We’re really lucky to have a world-renowned engineering school nearby that’s also affordable,” she says.
All the high-school students we spoke with on Thursday were “impressed” by the campus and excited to see what goes on behind the scenes. “The Information Days are essential for introducing our section to high-school students,” says Jérôme Waser, head of the Chemistry and Chemical Engineering section. “On the first day we show them the learning side of our degree programs, and on the second, the more tangible, research-oriented side – which is great to be able to do. And the feedback we’ve gotten has been excellent.” The other sections also value the event and spend a lot of time and energy getting ready.
The students especially enjoyed visiting out-of-the-ordinary places like the reverberation chamber and the anechoic chamber, whose walls fully absorb sound waves – making the room so quiet you can hear your eyes blink. “The campus’ facilities are really impressive, and it’s great to be able to see exactly what goes on in research labs,” says Antoine Hirt, a high-school junior in Burier.
The students also got to work behind a lab bench, watching chemists make Bakelite (the world’s first plastic), viewing fluorescent cells under a microscope, comparing chemical reactors and learning about recent advancements in computational chemistry, where computers can now simulate 1,000–2,000 heavy atoms. “I’m still deciding between chemistry and physics. What fascinates me about science is how the discovery of a single formula can have such a huge impact,” says Albin Servais, a high-school senior in Chamblandes.