Environmental Sciences and Engineering
Gaining expertise in and understanding technology are crucial for environmental action. Biotechnologies also play a major role in the treatment of waste water, re-using solid waste, or remediating polluted soil. Often treated with suspicion, bacteria and fungi can also prove to be invaluable allies if they can be channeled for a specific purpose. The role of environmental engineers is to analyze the nature of the pollution, to set out the appropriate treatment, then to ensure the follow-up and effectiveness of its implementation.
Environmental engineering must also participate in responsibly using the natural resources of water, soil, and air. Environmental engineers have to assess these resources and manage them within the framework of fragile ecosystems which have complex and unpredictable behavior. They succeed in this particularly through rigorously using data from onsite measurements or from models.
These experts are also involved in natural risk assessment. Here, as well, their approach involves an increasing use of environmental monitoring, a discipline that is experiencing a boom allowing an ever-more exhaustive collection of the primary parameters necessary for following and modeling environmental phenomena.
The students acquire the fundamental scientific basics in mathematics and physics during their first year of studies. The following two years include general training in environmental science (environmental chemistry, microbiology, soil science, atmospheric physicochemistry, etc.) on the one hand, and classes devoted to engineering techniques (hydrology for engineers, sanitary engineering, water and waste management, quantitative methods, etc.) on the other. This joint program is complemented by a choice of optional classes.
Bachelor: simplified study plan
The Master’s program offers a wide range of classes grouped around three specializations:
- Chemical and environmental bioprocess
- Water, soil and ecosystems engineering
- Monitoring and modeling of the environment
The students also have the opportunity to take specializations which involve environmental sciences such as, for example, classes in spatial and urban environment or energy. They will, moreover, have an internship to gain some experience in the field.
Other programs are also open after graduating with the Bachelor’s degree, in particular some interdisciplinary Master’s programs.
Further information on Master’s study programs.
Please note that the information regarding the programs’ structure as well as the simplified study plan may be subject to change and that these are no legally binding. Only the official regulations and study plans are binding.
Thanks to a multidisciplinary approach that takes environmental issues into account, environmental engineers regularly work with civil engineers, urban planners, geologists, as well as various experts involved in projects related to territory, mobility and resource management.
Some graduates might well choose to pursue their scientific curiosity further by embarking on a doctoral thesis, either in Switzerland or abroad.
Bringing practical solutions to our daily environmental problems – melting of glaciers, disorganized spatial planning, global warming, waste management – was the main reason why I studied environmental engineering.
I work as an environmental project manager for the CFF, in the infrastructure division. But choosing this career was not obvious! In high school, I specialized in biology and chemistry, but I then decided to study psychology at university. After one year, I eventually realized that I missed sciences and technology, and I enrolled at EPFL.
My job at the CFF is to manage different projects, from planning to execution. I also have to make sure that these projects comply with Swiss environmental law, one of the most restrictive and well-developed worldwide. I work on anything from building or modifying train stations, tracks and noise barriers, widening tunnels to adapt to the double-deck trains, to modifying the power supply. I have a multidisciplinary job, which requires to be very well organized and to respect deadlines. It also implies fieldwork, which was very important to me.
The environmental aspect plays a huge role in my company, at different levels. For example, using new rolling stock allows us to save energy. We also have to make sure that every project complies with Swiss law. As a large company with almost 30’000 employees, the CFF also takes this environmental impact into consideration so it can be reduced with appropriate measures.
At the end of my studies, I did not know exactly where I wanted to work. But I definitely wanted to put my skills into practice and acquire a first professional experience. I worked a couple of months for a small engineering office, but I was somehow still attracted to research. I came back to EPFL as a scientific assistant, as I did not want to start a PhD, and was able to lead my own researches in a water related field. After two years, I finished my project and I started looking for a job in the private sector.
Many of the people I studied with work in engineering offices, making technical studies for public or private clients. Other friends found a job in private companies or in the public sector. Now and then, I even collaborate with them on some projects, which is always nice!
After my Master’s degree, I wanted to work in the humanitarian field. I left Switzerland for Nicaragua and I found an internship with the NGO WaterAid.
During my internship in Nicaragua, I discovered an amazing environment (I was on the Caribbean coast, which is wild and autonomous), as well as very interesting development projects for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), in different indigenous communities. Among other things, my work included interactive mapping of water sources, the construction of water supply networks and rainwater harvesting systems, but also creating and reinforcing local capacities in those fields. I enjoyed my first responsibilities as a team leader, managing construction sites and keeping within budget. It was a great opportunity to acquire experience and find a job easily thereafter.
After this internship, I started working as a WASH project manager and as a base manager for a French NGO, ACTED, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This means not only implementing an extremely interesting development project for many communities, but also having the great responsibilities that come with it. I have a lot of challenges: managing both construction and awareness teams, and dealing with logistics in remote areas. My work place is set in a beautiful place, between the jungle and the DRC’s big rivers!
A Master’s degree in Environmental Sciences and Engineering at EPFL does not only teach you the technical expertise, but it also gives you the capacity to learn and adapt to any situation. And this is a crucial point in the humanitarian field! These studies offer some very interesting classes if you intend to work for an NGO: hydrology, public health engineering, water management and, of course, fluid mechanics. I would also recommend the option Water, soil and eco-systems engineering during the Master’s degree, as this option prepares you well to work in countries in crisis or developing countries. An internship as an engineer in this field could also be a start.
NGOs need WASH engineers all over the world. Given the huge number of organizations (French, English, German, and Spanish-speaking) and the diversity of their actions and countries of intervention, there are many possibilities for students interested in a humanitarian job.
Two natural catastrophes in the Upper Valais, one in 1993 and another in 2000, drove me to study environmental engineering.
I come from that area and I therefore wanted to contribute to reducing those risks.
Today, I am active in danger prevention in a civil engineering office in Sion. I focus on river flood management. It is a domain that includes cartography of hydrological risks and projects dealing with flood risk management in torrents.
My first contact with risk management was at EPFL. I did an internship during my studies at a company specialized in the field, and during my Master’s thesis I studied health risks for researchers working with nanoparticles.
After receiving my degree, I worked in the environmental security domain for a railroad company. I was in charge of organizing security and environmental audits, analyzing existing tunnel security, managing pollution, and I was a representative for the company in a workgroup dedicated to reducing the risks associated with transporting dangerous merchandise.
During my studies, I was interested in both sections Water, soil, and ecosystems engineering and Pollution management and industrial ecology. The pluridisciplinary education allows one to be flexible in the face of change and to be able to work in domains that are completely different. My professional activities center around management of many types of risk, and my experience has proven to me that it is possible to go from one domain to another.