“The key skill I've learnt is perseverance”

© 2023 LMS / EPFL

© 2023 LMS / EPFL

Congratulations to LMS apprentice Natacha Romanens who has successfully completed her studies to become a physics laboratory assistant.

For four years, Natacha Romanens has worked with the Laboratory of Soil Mechanics in the basement of EPFL’s Civil Engineering building, among complex machinery and tools used for the analysis of soil, “We analyze soil under different conditions to see how it reacts,” says Natacha.

The LMS’s “clients” drop off their soil at the lab - samples of grayish powder, oily clay, and dense rock arrive in 10- to 20-kilogram bags. As well, researchers receive soil cores, which are cylindrical samples that end up getting sliced and diced for testing purposes. The laboratory’s state-of-the-art technology attracts clients from outside the university, too. Engineering firms are often interested in learning about the ground on which their future building, railroad, or bridge will stand.

Natacha explains that there are very strict soil characterization protocols, “There are specific physics-based methods and theories behind each test, so my work is quite varied. I never do the same thing twice in a row,” she says. “Every soil sample is different, too, and you have to know how to work with each one. Some tests take an hour and a half of non-stop work, while others take four days but don’t require any intervention during that time – like when we freeze and defrost soil multiple times, for example.”

With her federal certificate of competence (CFC) and a broader vocational degree in hand, Natacha’s next stop is Hamburg, where she will spend six months at a language school to improve her German.

Whilst she is moving on to begin her career, she has lots of memories of LMS, including a particular favorite – the day of her oral defense! “At the end of the apprenticeship, apprentices must do tests with a report in their laboratory, and the experts mark our work. It's a lot of work over 1-2 months, and on the day of my oral defense, I was told that I'd passed. For me, it was proof of the four years I'd spent in the lab and of the skills I'd acquired. I was very proud of my work!”

And Natacha’s advice to anyone interested in becoming a physics laboratory assistant? “It’s a job that suits curious people. It’s diverse, you gain a lot of skills, particularly perseverance. When a test doesn't work as it should, you can't give up, you have to keep trying because customers expect results!”