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Research at the EPFL EPFL is one of the leading universities in basic, applied, and interdisciplinary sciences and we are committed to providing our faculty with world-class research facilities, the most advanced equipment, and ample administrative support regarding grants, logistics, and human resources. The research being conducted here and institution’s atmosphere and infrastructure have been attracting talent from all over the world. As the Dean of Research I make a special effort with my team to nurture our junior researchers. To help them thrive at the EPFL we also offer start-up packages to new members of our community. In this first edition I am very proud and delighted to present some research highlights of our faculty. These impressive and groundbreaking results run the gamut from quantum effects in physics to understanding the human brain, modeling prevailing environmental problems, as well as much more. I would like to thank the central service and research affairs staff for their dedicated support and initiative in the creation of this brochure. Again, the following pages present just a few examples of current work being conducted by our brilliant faculty, and I look forward to introducing more inspiring work in the upcoming issues. EPFL Dean of Research Prof. Benoit DEVEAUD-PLÉDRAN


Faculté de l'Environnement Naturel, Architectural et Construit Bringing mathematical modeling into mainstream epidemiology

Finding solutions for a sustainable future

The mission of the School of Architecture, Civil, and Environmental Engineering (ENAC) is to provide excellent undergraduate and graduate level education and conduct research into innovative solutions for the world’s most pressing environmental issues: population growth and the emergence of megacities; increasing land, energy, and transportation needs; maintenance and improvement of the built environment; conservation of natural resources and biodiversity; and the management of natural and manmade hazards.

“At the start of the project, we had a clear idea about the directions to pursue. We began by studying rivers as ecological corridors for species – how river networks and the management of water resources affect biodiversity for example. We also studied how landscape heterogeneities have affected historic population migrations. But our research rapidly developed and entered unexpected fields. For instance, we began to explore how far we can go in predicting epidemics of waterborne diseases, including endemic and epidemic cholera, and now this is a major research line of the Lab." Cholera is one of the world's most virulent infectious diseases, and it thrives in areas with little or no access to safe drinking water or adequate sanitation. The team of Prof. Rinaldo is working on an interdisciplinary project that focuses on largescale cholera epidemic modeling and its use for the emergency management of control measures. His area of expertise (i.e. bringing mathematical modeling into mainstream epidemiology) is perceived to be a key research domain for years to come. This research is proving indispensable for predicting the space-time evolution of infections, including the instantaneous local values of severely/asymptomatic infected or susceptible individuals, which is crucial to public health and intervention strategy management.

School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering

These techniques facilitate the deployment of life-saving medical supplies and staff and the optimization of control measures like mass vaccinations, the intelligent use of antibiotics, and the reduction of exposure rates due to sanitation improvement, access to clean drinking supplies, mobility restrictions, etc. ECHO is coping with a problem whose relevance has been brought to the world's attention recently by the massive cholera outbreak in a) Altitude [m] b) the River Network of the social, economic and humanitarian problems involved. Haiti. The severity of this epidemic made clear dimensions a)2700 Altitude m [m]

b) River Network

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Prof. Andrea RINALDO Laboratory of Ecohydrologie


FacultĂŠ Informatique et Communications Massive number crunching to secure the Internet

The School of Computer and Communication Sciences is one of the main European centers for education and research in the field of computer, information and communication sciences. Its research includes interdisciplinary projects with a wide variety of programs across campus and with other universities and is funded by the Swiss Confederation, European Union, as well as a number of private foundations and industrial partners. Research activities span the following areas: Algorithms & Theoretical Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning, Computational Biology, Computer Architecture & Integrated Systems, Data Management & Information Retrieval, Graphics & Vision, Human-Computer Interaction, Information & Communication Theory, Programming Languages & Formal Methods, Security & Cryptography, Signal & Image Processing, Systems & Networks.

Protecting information used to be something that only governments would worry about. These days it affects everyone. Seamlessly integrated with our quickly 14116 growing communications infrastructure is a wide array of security mechanisms that, transparent to the user, are meant to keep eavesdroppers at bay. 13 At EPFL's School of Computer and Communication Sciences, the team of Prof. Lenstra studies how to adequately protect data in an economically viable manner. This involves research in many different areas, ranging from mathematics, algorithm design and analysis, and implementations that optimally exploit the characteristics of the underlying hardware, to identifying bad practices before they can be exploited by hackers.


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Since its inception in 2006, the Laboratory for Cryptologic Algorithms (LACAL) 10608 has substantially contributed to maintaining Internet security by combining new mathematical insights, innovative applications of commodity hardware, and advanced implementation techniques.

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Moduli that share no or both prime factors

For instance, in 2008 the lab's cluster of more than 200 PlayStation 3 game consoles made headlines when it was used to create a proof of concept rogue certification authority, thereby convincing the key players in the security industry to abandon a particular commonly used method that was known to be insecure. More recently, the lab's disclosure of a widely spread problem affecting a popular encryption tool was featured in the world press. Furthermore, many record calculations have been performed over the past years on the lab's computer clusters – calculations that take years on thousands of cores are not uncommon – and have triggered the adoption of more secure cryptographic standards.

Moduli that share one prime factor

Prof. Arjen LENSTRA Laboratory for Cryptologic Algorithms


FacultĂŠ des Sciences de Base

Optical microresonators The mission of the School of Basic Sciences (SB) is to create new knowledge that forms the basis of next generation technologies, find scientific solutions to real-world problems, educate and train the next generation of scientists and engineers, and foster innovation for economic growth via activities ranging from curiosity driven research to device oriented applications. In the context of this mission, we seek to become one of the top five research universities in Europe.

Systems with small dissipation have unique properties. The Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements is studying ultra low loss optical microresonators for new physics and technological applications. In 2007 the Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements discovered that such optical microresonators can generate optical frequency combs (Del Haye et al Nature 2007). Optical frequency combs are a revolutionary tool for precision measurements and were invented by Theodor W. Hänsch (Nobel Prize in Physics in 2005). While conventional frequency combs are based on complex and bulky femtosecond lasers, optical microresonators enable a dramatic reduction in size and fiber optic integration of the latter. The k-lab is presently researching this novel principle in order to explore new ways of generating frequency combs in the molecular fingerprinting region (mid IR) or for advanced multichannel telecommunications sources.

School of Basic Sciences

The high power inside a microresonator also enables the study of the complex physics involved in radiation pressure. Predicted in 1970 the optomechanical coupling that occurs between mechanical motion and the light field can be used to realize laser sideband cooling using backaction and bears similarity to atomic laser cooling. The Laboratory of Photonics demonstrated this technique for the first time (Schliesser et al. Phys. Rev. Lett. 2006) and used it to cool mechanical oscillators to nearly absolute zero. At these ultra low temperatures the mechanical oscillator occupies its quantum mechanical ground state with high probability (Verhagen, Nature 2012). These studies aim at demonstrating that micro- and nanomechanical oscillators coupled to light fields can serve as a new quantum technology, enabling the storage of optical information in mechanical vibrations for instance. Moreover these studies allow for the study of the most fundamental quantum mechanical oscillator: a mechanical vibration. Prof. Tobias KIPPENBERG Laboratory of photonics and quantum measurements


FacultĂŠ de Sciences et Techniques de l'IngĂŠnieur A new promising material for electronics

The high quality of the scientific publications and the large number of successful patent applications that emanate from the School of Engineering (STI) laboratories attest to the recognition of the international academic community and the interest of industrial partners in its work. With 1275 employees, 1020 undergraduates, 547 Masters students and 657 doctoral candidates, and an annual budget of 80 million Swiss Francs, STI possesses both the competencies as well as the means to bring a broad range of multidisciplinary projects to a successful conclusion.

The miniaturisation of transistors, the main building block of electronics, is reaching its limits. Some effects of these limits became visible in the last decade, when microprocessor clock frequencies stopped increasing due to problems related to heat dissipation. Replacing silicon with another material could be a possible solution. Researchers from the group of Prof. Kis from the Electrical Engineering Institute at EPFL have recently shown that single molecular layers of mineral molybdenite (chemical formula MoS2) can be used to build high-performance transistors. This abundant material is mainly used in the steel industry and is well-known for its lubricating properties. Prof. Kis and his team showed that it is also an interesting semiconductor. What makes MoS2 attractive for semiconductor devices is its structure: crystals of this material are composed of layers, 0.65 nm thick, which are stacked on top of each other like sheets in a block of paper.

School of Engineering

Using a simple piece of scotch-tape, the LANES group was able to extract single layers and build transistors that are extremely power efficient and can be put into a more complete standby mode than its counterparts made of silicon or graphene. LANES researchers also demonstrated how simple integrated circuits based on MoS2 were capable of performing logic operations and amplifying voltage. Because of its atomic-scale thickness, smaller transistors could be made with MoS2 than with silicon, which can only be made 2nm thick because of problems with oxidation. The same material could also be used for fabricating solar cells or LEDs. In future, MoS2 could allow for the development of transistors that are a great deal smaller and more power-efficient than previously imaginable. MoS2 is also the most stretchable known semiconductor and could be used for innovative applications requiring elasticity such as the fabrication of flexible computers, solar cells, or LEDs.

Prof. Andras KIS Laboratory of Nanoscale Electronics and Structures


Faculté des Sciences de la Vie

Revealing the mechanisms that translate stress effects on brain and behavior The future of life sciences lies at the crossroads of biology, medicine, physics, mathematics and engineering, because today's challenges in medicine strongly depend on transdisciplinary approaches. In line with this goal, the School of Life Sciences (SV) trains scientist engineers whose combined skills in these fields are set to address fundamental biological questions and attack major medical problems of our times. Researchers in SV apply this philosophy to broad questions spanning a wide range of disciplines and methodologies, including cancer, infectious diseases, and neurological disorders.

Stress has major effects on behavior and is a key risk factor for the development of psychopathologies. Understanding the neurobiological processes involved in how stress affects brain and behavior can help improve currently insufficient therapeutic approaches to neuropsychiatric disorders.

The Brain Mind Institute of the School of Life Science’s Laboratory of Behavioral Genetics led by Prof. Sandi investigates the impact and mechanisms involved in stress effects on learning and memory, social behaviors and psychiatric disorders – anxiety, depression, and pathological aggression – as well as individual factors determining vulnerability to stress. This involves a multidisciplinary program comprising behavioral, pharmacological, molecular, genetic, epigenetic, metabolic, neuroimaging and mathematical approaches.

School of Life Sciences

One of the key findings of this team was to identify neuronal cell adhesion molecules, which play a crucial role in the establishment of neuronal contacts, as relevant targets of stress in brain regions involved in emotion and cognition. They further showed that pharmacological treatment with small peptides acting on cell adhesion molecules can improve cognitive function and induce recovery from stress effects, highlighting the therapeutic potential of targeting these molecules. Currently, the lab is primarily concerned with understanding the regulation of social behaviors and the societal implications of stress effects. Their findings have revealed a strong influence of stress in the establishment of social hierarchies, social motivation and aggressive behaviors, identified changes in the dynamics of brain activity, and the expression of genes critically involved in neurotransmission among the underlying mechanisms. Their work questions classical theories in the field of violence, which place major emphasis on cultural influences and social learning, by implicating biological factors in the link between early life stress and the emergence of violent individuals as well as the transgenerational transmission of violence. Prof. Carmen SANDI Laboratory of Behavioral Genetics

Vice Presidency of Academic Affairs Structure HTTP.//VPAA.EPFL.CH

School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering ENAC.EPFL.CH Dean: Prof. Marc Parlange School of Basic Sciences SB.EPFL.CH Dean: Prof. Thomas Rizzo School of Computer and Communication Sciences IC.EPFL.CH Dean: Prof. Martin Vetterli School of Engineering STI.EPFL.CH Dean: Prof. Demetri Psaltis School of Life Sciences SV.EPFL.CH Dean: Prof. Didier Trono College of Management Technology CDM.EPFL.CH College of Humanities CDH.EPFL.CH

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Research Highlights 2012  
Research Highlights 2012  

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