Friday, July 25, 2014

Swiss Adventures, or 10 reasons to love Geneva!

Hey everyone, and sorry for the long delay! I was busy feeding myself baguettes + cheese, watching the entirety of BBC Sherlock and simulating magnetization dynamics on my computer. As you can see, I have a valid excuse for the three week long hiatus. But you, my friends who have not yet posted in this blog of your summer adventures, have no excuse at all, and I demand to see some new LMF faces posting here at once. Thank you.

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People love Switzerland for its chocolate and cheese. For me, it was more a land of science, lakes, and amazing mountain views. Here are my reasons:

 Reason # 1: International setting

Geneva fascinated me with its versatility. Having become used to the small town of Grenoble, I was more than happy to immerse myself in a bustling city with something exciting on every corner.

The second largest of the four United Nations office sites is in this city; we, the Grenoble summer interns, decided to go there first since it was also close to the Red Cross Museum. Of course we had to get some picture proof of that:

Photo (c) David M. '14
We have a pretty diverse group right there, coming from places in the US like Boston, Carolina, and Indiana, as well as France. I guess it is fitting to the UN!

Right in front of the gates to the UN entrance, there is a large (very large) broken chair. One of its legs was broken, meant to serve as a symbol of opposition to land mines. Now why the landmines would specifically affect the leg of a chair I do not know, unless the chair were to perhaps symbolize a person? If this is the case, I think it is a pretty powerful statement.

The interns with the chair. Photo (c) David M. '14

Reason #2: Contains fascinating accounts of human resilience

Next stop was the International Red Cross Museum, which was a new wonder in itself. This is one of the most hands-on non-scientific museums I have ever visited. The exhibitions were engrossing: there were plenty of documents from the history of the Red Cross from patients and medics during wars and catastrophes, during imprisonments and struggles. One of the most shocking exhibits was one showcasing the crafts of prisoners of war: these projects ranged from elaborate origami birds made out of aluminum Coke cans in Columbia to figurines made from fish bones by Russian prisoners of war in WWII. This exhibit was one of the most moving things I have ever seen in my life, and my heart went out to these long-lost artists, and was in awe of the resilience of the human spirit. I thought about what it means to be human; about what aesthetics can do even in the most dire of situations; about what we can do to prevent this kind of art from being made again.

An example of a guitar made from cans by prisoners of war:

Photo (c) David M. '14

The Red Cross Museum from the outside

 Reason #3: Huge lake! Need I say more? 

From here, we took the tram back to the center, where Lac Leman greeted us with swans, rainbows, and a cool lakeside breeze.

 Let's just say that swimming was definitely on the agenda!

Reason #4 Cute Centre-Ville

The old town itself was also extremely cute, typical of "les centre-villes" (town centers). There, we were greeted by romantic era cathedrals and curiosities like a clock made from flowers and bushes. Pretty creative.

Reason #5: Relaxing atmosphere 

Geneva also knows how to let its inhabitants destress in a natural and peaceful manner. Some of my friends took advantage of this:

Reason #6:A place to meet your classmates and J-lab partners on their research trips

Finally, the most exciting portion of the evening came around 5pm - meeting my new J-lab partner Catherine '16 at the CERN  tram station (quite far from the center). She works at CERN of Geneva, so I assumed she lived in Geneva, as well. Thus I was a little confused why she wanted to meet me specifically near CERN (the furthest possible point from the center) on a Saturday evening. It was great meeting her outside of the US and sharing our international experience and funny lab stories, but I was surprised when she started to buy a regular tram ticket to the center as we headed to dinner.

"Don't you have a pass?" I asked increduously.
"Oh, I don't live in Geneva."
"I live in France, and walk across the border every day for 45 minutes to my work at CERN."
"Oh, I see - wait, WHAT?!"

That was pretty intense, but nevertheless pretty cool (how often do you cross an international border to get to work?!). After having a pizza dinner in the center (nothing else was open, so one is stuck with pizza as always - see Paris adventures with mom last year!) we headed back to her place to watch the Netherlands-Argentina game with a group of her fellow MIT physics interns.

Reason #7: Amazing views while border-crossing to France!

On the way across the border, there were lots of pretty sites.
That round thing is the Microcosm, or CERN Museum.

Yup, that's Mont Blanc in the clouds!

Let's just say it made me wish I got to work across a border, too! As we entered Catherine's apartment, an amusing sight came into view: a physics major sitting on a couch, watching the football match (yes, it is football, my friends, not soccer - I shall not use that term to belittle this great sport) and taking a practice Physics GRE test. I watched as he drew free body diagrams (GRE is like the SAT after all, I guess) and periodically watched the stalemate on the screen. Something about that scene was so MIT that I could only smile. The other interns soon joined us and it was a nice MIT evening in France, even though I originally came to Geneva.

I also found out that both Catherine and the group of interns often work on the weekends, which was extremely inspirational in the light of... everything I do on the weekends. That is the fundamental difference between the French and the Germans/Swiss, not that I am implying anything (and not stereotyping at all ;-) ).

Reason #8: Home to CERN  

The next day Catherine showed me some of the buildings at her work, and the so-called CERN "graveyard" - a site of discarded LHC and non-LHC parts. The actual LHC is closed for the moment because they are upgrading its design energy from 7 TeV to 13 TeV, and my J-lab partner is actually helping to calibrate some measurements for the new LHC. She doesn't work with the collider directly but writes code that will help classify the new results based on prior particle measurements. Lots of data and lots of Monte Carlo fitting, but sounds like lots of fun.

But that also meant I was stuck with the unused parts instead of being able to see the real thing (no one can see it now except a very narrow list of experts). So here's me with a capacitor chain:

Giant cloud chamber, not Dalek!
And of course...

Reason #9: It's a city with lots of appreciation for science!

After saying goodbye to my J-lab partner and expressing our excitement for the experimental adventures to come, I headed to Geneva's Museum of Science History. It was wonderful, and my favorite part was the light and electromagnetism exhibit upstairs, which ranged from display of famous set-ups such as those one would see in 8.02 (a giant and complicated Wimhurst Machine for instance) to a really fun optics hands-on room, where one can play with reflection, refraction, interference and all that fun stuff. The little kid in me enjoyed it.

He he he. Infinite me's, kind of troubling.

Reason #10: A great find for both naturalists and thinkers!

It has beautiful botanical gardens...

.... and even a giant chess board!

Photo temporarily borrowed from online sources

I will definitely be back to play a game. Will you?


And, just for fun...
Where should I go to next? (Choose at most 3).
Calanques near Cassis / Marseille
Good old Paris
Strasbourg / Germany biking
Mont Blanc and Chamonix hiking
London, UK
Torino, Italy
Poll Maker


  1. Glad to hear you're having fun! Finding a jlab partner (and maybe one with whom you can share good bread and cheese on your long evenings to come?) is definitely important, glad that's sorted itself out so neatly :)

    I had to vote for London more or less on principle (though Strasbourg is a delicious French-German hybrid, would also recommend)

    1. Hehe, I know, I want to go to London, too! But I already have been there and I need to visit Italy. And yes, good bread and cheese sounds... lovely.

  2. I had to vote for London because it is only 60 miles from Cambridge. :)

  3. I was born there! Geneve will always have a special place in my heart <3 glad you enjoyed it!

    1. Wow, Zizz, I didn't know you were born in Geneva! That is really cool. So you are Swiss then? :D