I, Devalla Aditya, am a student of chemical engineering, B.Tech 2nd year. I was always interested about research in my department, so after trying out several projects in the institute, I wanted to try research abroad so as to learn about research in other parts of the world. Thus, I started mailing certain professors from good universities, but I was not very successful.
Then, I remembered my family knew a professor of biochemical engineering, so I approached him, but he couldn’t give me any projects. He suggested to me a professor who was working in ETH Zurich currently, so, I mailed him. He accepted to give me an internship opportunity at ETH Zurich for the summers. He didn’t mention the exact topic on which I would be working on, but I accepted it as I saw it as a great opportunity for a second year student. There weren’t many questions asked by the professors for the selection process. He just checked my interest in the project, and whether I would be able to afford the intern :p, because I wasn’t being funded by the professor for the intern.
Initially, I thought of the intern as everyone would do, that I am just a second year student, so the work they give wouldn’t be important to their research. Also, I had the impression that I would get a normal intern where I would have to code, and do simulations, which I find very boring. Luckily, my intern turned out to be way better than I had imagined.
The basic work that my research group does is based on neurology. Many of the drugs that can cure brain diseases cannot enter the brain, because there is a “ blood brain barrier ” around the veins and arteries which only allow certain substances through them. Thus, we try to inject the drug, by injecting it into the veins, using “liposomes” encapsulated with the drug, then bursting the liposomes when they enter the veins inside the brain through focused ultrasound (FUS). My work is to optimise the amount of drug that will be loaded into the liposomes, which is presently only 5% efficient, by conducting various experiments in the laboratory by trying many different methods. This optimisation is important because the drug used, is very expensive (1 mg of drug costs around 50000 rs.), thus 5% efficiency leads to a huge loss of money. My work timings are flexible, but are generally from 11AM to 5PM.
Lifestyle and Culture
Regarding the food, I learnt how to cook rice and few more things before coming here. Initially to survive, my mother made me many types of pickles, and powders which wouldn’t get spoiled and could be eaten with rice, any time. Also, there is a tamil store near my apartment, where I get all the stuff required, like rice, spices, vegetables etc. There is also a mess in the campus, which gives lunch at only 5.40 CHF, which was also a good option if I failed to take lunch that day.
I found the culture here to be quite different from our country. Main differences, according to me are the level of education of people, the living standards of the people. The minimum wage here is very high, which ensures good standard of living. Also, smoking and drinking are pretty common. For vegetarians, Zurich is one of the few vegetarian friendly cities in Europe, almost any restaurant has vegetarian options, but it is better to be careful in assessing whether it is vegetarian or not, I once realised that I had a fish in my plate, although I asked for a vegetarian meal, in the institute mess. Also, one can find a lot of Indians in Zurich. I became very good friends with two Indians who live here, in my apartment, they have helped me a lot in every issue. So, I suggest you to find someone who can help you in the starting few days, because it would be hard to adjust, especially for a person who would be going out of India for the first time.
Switzerland is a great place to travel around, one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Also, it is surrounded by some of the famous countries of Europe, so travelling was pretty easy. Many of my friends had taken a EuRail pass and travelled by train, but I preferred to travel by bus. There is a company flixbus, which has a pass for 100 Euros, and 5 trips can be taken through that pass. I found this to be the cheapest mode of transport. Until now, I have travelled to Paris, Prague, Berlin, which are all very beautiful cities. All the countries in and around Switzerland are worth visiting, like France, Italy, Germany, Spain etc.
I think to fund yourself for an intern in Zurich is a tough job, as it is one of the most expensive places in the world, but is worth it. A thing worth mentioning is that, as I had come on my own I had to pay 350CHF just for joining ETH Zurich,. (getting an ETH mail ID etc.)