“I'd love to do some teaching one day!”

© 2022 EPFL

© 2022 EPFL

“I believe a great teacher can make you love a subject you hate – but the opposite is also true,” says Bastien Aymon, a Master’s student in mechanical engineering who counts himself lucky that he met the right teachers at the right time.

Bastien Aymon left high school with the highest average grade in his year: 28.5 out of 30 across the core subjects. With these results, he could have studied any subject at university – humanities or sciences. “At the university information days, I signed up for philosophy and law,” he says. “Everyone in my family studied law, so I guess I was keeping up the tradition. But, to be honest, I couldn’t see myself making a career out of it.” There was another factor at play: Bastien had developed a burgeoning interest in science, influenced by his physics teacher for two years, who’d studied at EPFL and spoke often about the School in glowing terms. “I knew I wanted to study science, engineering or something like that,” he explains. “I seriously considered ETH Zurich. But I eventually opted for EPFL. My reasons were fairly mundane: all my friends were here.”

© 2018 Christophe Darbellay presents his matu diploma to Bastien

Bastien vividly recalls his first day on campus and his first physics class, taught by Philippe Müllhaupt in an imposing lecture hall packed with around 400 students. By contrast, there were just seven people in his “applied mathematics and physics” optional class. “I put myself under a lot of pressure right from the start,” says Bastien. “I worked as much as I could. I couldn’t have worked any harder!”

An inclination for mechanics research

After meeting a second influential figure, Bastien narrowed down his field of study. That figure was Prof. Pedro Reis, who heads EPFL’s Flexible Structures Laboratory (fleXLab) – someone he now considers a mentor. “I took his introduction to structural mechanics class in my first year,” explains Bastien. “It was the first, and I think only, time I heard a professor talk about his research in class. By putting the theory into context, he made it less intimidating and gave us insight into its practical applications. Prof. Reis introduced me to the great possibilities of mechanics.”

© 2022 EPFL Alain Herzog / Bastien Aymon working on magnetic coils at FleXlab

Buoyed by enthusiasm, Bastien opted to work at the fleXLab alongside his studies. There, he had the opportunity to help write a paper that would go on to be published in a leading solid mechanics journal. “When you read a paper, it’s all very elegant so you think there’s nothing to it,” he says. “But when you sit down to write your own, and you spend three hours or more on a single paragraph, you understand how hard it is. You send your paper to the reviewer, feeling content and glowing with pride – after all, it’s your first baby. Then the comments come back and you realize it wasn’t as good as you thought.”

Bastien did a semester project at Prof. William Curtin’s Laboratory for Multiscale Mechanics Modeling (LAMMM) last spring and is now working on a second one in which he’s simulating dislocations in metals. He finds the experience incredibly rewarding: “Lots of students see a career in industry as the ‘default’ option, perhaps because, at the Bachelor’s and Master’s levels, they don’t get enough exposure to the first-class mechanics research happening at EPFL.”

© 2022 EPFL Alain Herzog / Pedro Reis, Bastien Aymon and William Curtin

Next step: thesis research at MIT

Having secured a Master’s excellence fellowship from EPFL, Bastien can focus fully on his research. He’ll soon be joining Prof. Carlos Portela at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he’ll complete his Master’s research on architectured materials. “These materials are designed to possess properties across multiple scales,” he explains. “They’re extremely lightweight, and their mechanical properties make them incredibly useful for studying impact resistance, for instance.”

“I feel lucky to have worked with some great teachers who’ve really spurred me on,” says Bastien. “Could I see myself following the same path? All I can say is that I worked as an assistant and love teaching. I appreciate it when something is taught well. I believe a great teacher can make you love a subject you hate – but the opposite is also true. Bad teaching is a real shame. I definitely want to contribute what I can.”

© 2022 EPFL Correction of an exercise

Images to download

© 2022 EPFL Alain Herzog Bastien Aymon and Terrence Moran
© 2022 EPFL Alain Herzog Bastien Aymon and Terrence Moran

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