Spotlight on nine student projects

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Semester projects give EPFL students a valuable opportunity to apply what they’ve learned. Here is just a sample of the many interesting projects carried out in 2018.

When the malaria parasite goes into hiding

For his Master’s degree in chemical engineering, Hugo Frammery developed a model to simulate the metabolism of the malaria parasite in its dormant state, a little-understood phase of its life when drugs have no effect. His model reconstructs all the chemical reactions that may take place inside the parasite during this state, and could be the key to eradicating the disease.

An underwater tunnel connecting Geneva and Lausanne

Drawing inspiration from Elon Musk’s Hyperloop and the Swissmetro initiative, Elia Notari, a Master’s student in civil engineering, looked into the feasibility of building an underwater high-speed train route under Lake Geneva. This is a fascinating technical challenge that draws on multiple disciplines, from structural design and hydraulics to geotechnics and environmental assessments.

The underwater tunnel would run along the shore of Lake Geneva.

Competing in the HydroContest with a new boat

For the 2018 HydroContest, held in Saint-Tropez in September, a team of EPFL students designed a miniature remote-controlled boat powered by batteries. The HydroContest is an annual student competition devoted to nautical and maritime energy efficiency.

The late trains you see – and those you don’t

A delayed train often causes all the trains behind it on the same track to be late too. This cascading effect was the topic of civil engineering student Chloé Lafaye’s semester project. She designed and ran hundreds of simulations to model how train delays propagate down a rail line and to compare the two generations of train signaling systems used in Switzerland.

A clever way to recover weather balloon radiosondes

The meteorological sensors carried into the upper atmosphere by weather balloons are often lost when they return to earth. As part of their Bachelor’s project, five students studying either environmental sciences or physics developed a system that guides radiosondes’ trajectories as they fall to earth so that they can be found and reused. Through a single test flight from the roof of a campus building, they proved the feasibility of their concept.

The Showerloop, for an eco-friendly shower

Two EPFL Bachelor’s students – Jean-André Davy-Guidicelli in environmental engineering and Judith Capron in civil engineering – teamed up to create an open-source kit called Showerloop that lets people in arid parts of the world take a full and proper shower. Their system uses a set amount of water in a closed-loop system. The students have been awarded a grant for their project and installed three Showerloop prototypes at a university campus in Colombia.

The mushroom that works like plastic

By combining mycelium and sawdust, scientists can create a material that offers a promising alternative to plastic because it is not only light, cheap and easy to make, but also fully biodegradable in just three months. A team of eight environmental engineering and architecture students has developed a special recipe for such a material using mycelium from local oyster mushrooms and fibers from hemp grown in the Jura region. They tested the material’s key properties – thermal insulation, acoustic absorption, compressive strength, and water-resistance – and found them to be similar to those of expanded polystyrene.

Using artificial intelligence to boost inventiveness

Engineers can innovate more quickly and in a more targeted manner than ever before by using artificial intelligence to comb through the vast array of published research and detect the most relevant findings for their work. This is the approach that Ana Manasovska helped develop as a Master’s student at EPFL, and the one used by creative artificial intelligence firm Iprova, based at EPFL’s Innovation Park, to come up with a wide range of inventions. Manasovska, whose Master’s research involved testing different phrase-recognition methods, now works for the firm.

Manasovska used AI to improve an online platform for sorting through innovations from around the world and helping engineers develop new systems.

Blurring the lines between virtual and reality

Hugo Hueber, a Bachelor’s student in computer science, developed a virtual reality game that can be used in any environment, allowing for the same level of interaction with virtual 3D objects as with real ones. His system doesn’t require a joystick – a piece of equipment that lessens the sense of reality. Rather, users can see each of their fingers and move them with a great deal of precision, for instance tapping them together or picking up an object with ease. The goal is to maximize the immersive experience for gamers.

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