Fellows from 3rd call

Enhancing critical thinking and metacognition abilities through gamified AI-assisted digital interventions

Education is changing. The introduction of Large Language Models (LLMS), like Chat-GPT, have made us question the abilities that should be prioritized in our students, specially the younger ones. Critical Thinking is a crucial 21st Century Skill that is required now and more so in the future. The scope of the project is to study how critical thinking can be fostered in primary school students of LATAM and Europe through the usage of a gamified digital interaction coupled with open-access pre-trained LLMs.

Project dates: Apr 2023 – Apr 2027

Keywords: Critical thinking – Large language models – Digital education

Partner: GESDA

Laboratory: STI-SDI-DG

Thesis director: Denis Gillet

EDOC program: JDPLS

Developing fluidized-bed reactor technology for renewable methane and methanol production from biogenic gases and green hydrogen 

Abstract coming soon! 

Project dates: Jun 2023 – May 2027

Keywords: TBC

Partner: TBC

Laboratory: PSI-LBK

Thesis director: Oliver Kröcher – Tilman Schildhauer

EDOC program: EDCH


Title coming soon!

Abstract coming soon! 

Project dates: Jan 2023 – Dec 2026

Keywords: TBC

Partner: TBC

Laboratory: TBC

Thesis director: TBC

EDOC program: TBC


Multiscale DEM simulations to reduce food waste

Reducing food waste in industrial processes could be a significant step towards a sustainable society. Many of the machineries currently in use were designed with empirical methods, which science can drive in the right direction. For example, out of 1 kg of raw rice, the best-in-class processes today result in around 550g of white rice and 150g of broken rice, which is a lower value product. Considering the 500 million tons processed annually, a reduction of a few percent in brokens, or an increase of a few percent in energy efficiency could have a significant ecologic and economic impact. This project aims to use a combination of simulations, modelling and experiments to understand the interplay between granular media representing real crops and its confining media. The goal is also to identify which parameters are critical for the jamming transition, how it affects particle wear and, ultimately, how to control it.

Project dates: Mar 2023 – Feb 2027

Keywords: Food waste Granular flow Jamming

Partner: Bühler

Laboratory: ENAC-IIC-LSMS

Thesis director: Jean-François Molinari

EDOC program: EDME

Understanding and ameliorating motor ageing

The diminishment of motor ability is one of the most disabling aspects of ageing. Using tractable models for motor ageing, we have found a key role for an understudied form of synaptic communication, miniature neurotransmission, in maintaining motor ability during ageing. In addition, the levels of Trio, an evolutionarily conserved Guanine nucleotide Exchange Factor (GEF) (Banerjee et al., 2021), declined at NMJ synapses with age. Remarkably, we have also shown that motor synapses undergo bouton fragmentation when neurotransmission was inhibited by blocking postsynaptic muscle neurotransmitter receptors, suggesting an unidentified retrograde signal required to maintain structures. These results further suggest that loss of presynaptic Trio or this unknown retrograde signal is essential to maintain the capacity of synapses to sustain the high intensities of neurotransmitter release necessary to maintain robust motor function. This study will build on these results to identify key molecules that can ameliorate motor synapse age-dependent deterioration and preserve motor ability in aged animals. Achievement of these goals could suggest novel therapeutic strategies to ameliorate the universal problem of the decline of motor ability in humans as we age.

Project dates: Jan 2023 – Dec 2026

Keywords: Motor ageing Retrograde signal Health and well-being of ageing population

Partner: TBC


Thesis director: Brian McCabe

EDOC program: EDNE

Investigating the mechanisms of β-lactamase membrane association

The rise of drug-resistant bacteria, specifically those producing β-lactamase enzymes that can degrade antibiotics, poses a serious global health threat. Of particular concern is their increasing resistance to carbapenem antibiotics, which are last-resort drugs used in clinics for treating bacterial infections. These β-lactamase enzymes can also operate outside bacterial cells by being transported in small membrane structures called outer membrane vesicles (OMVs), which contain various proteins. When Gram-negative bacteria face stressful conditions, they release these OMVs, extending the range of β-lactamase activity and shielding bacterial populations from antibiotics, including those that would be otherwise vulnerable to them. Our research aims to uncover how these enzymes associate with OMVs. We will apply molecular dynamics simulations and biochemistry experiments to determine which are the fundamental physicochemical properties of these enzymes that make them more or less likely to be found in OMVs, also uncovering potential druggable targets in these molecules.

Project dates: Dec 2022 – Nov 2026

Keywords: beta-lactamase – Outer membrane vesicle – Molecular dynamics

Partner: TBC


Thesis director: Matteo Dal Peraro

EDOC program: EDCB

Robotic Harvesting for improved yield and food security

Developing robotic approaches to harvesting would relieve the pressure on agriculture workers, and improve sustainability and food security. Furthermore, robots offer more controllability of agriculture operations, offering precision harvesting which could reduce waste and improving the quality of the produce generated. Although developments in robotic hardware and machine learning are making robotic harvesting possible, they do not utilize tactile sensors, which limits their use to more fragile or delicate crops. We propose exploring how developing soft sensorized and human-like robotic hand can be used to allow harvesting of a range of soft produce. By leveraging tactile, visual information and imitation learning algorithms based on human demonstrations, the proposed robotic hand can perform dexterous and robust manipulation that can improve the quality of the produce and the efficiency of harvesting.

Project dates: May 2023 – April 2027

Keywords: Robotic hand – Imitation learning – Visual-tactile fusion

Partner: TBC

Laboratory: STI-IGM-CREATE

Thesis director: Josie Hughes

EDOC program: EDRS

Adapting brain function to a rapidly changing environment

Constraining neuronal activity within physiological ranges is key for reliable brain function. In parallel, there must also exist the flexibility necessary for learning and memory formation during an organism’s lifetime. This study aims to create impact in healthcare, by providing a detailed molecular understanding of synaptic scaling, an essential adaptation response to changing intrinsic or extrinsic factors in the brain. This will offer a strong foundation to investigate the extent to which aberrant homeostatic signalling could contribute to the disease pathogenesis of a plethora of neuropsychiatric conditions. As an added contribution to sustainability, we have evidence to show that synaptic scaling can be directly influenced by environmental changes. Hence, we aim to establish and detail the first direct link between mechanisms of plasticity and the behavioural adaption of an organism. In the broader view, this could help understand the neuronal effects upon animals and humans of a rapidly warming globe.

Project dates: Jul 2022 – Jul 2026

Keywords: Brain plasticity Adaptive homeostasis Climate change

Partner: Regeneron Pharmaceuticals


Thesis director: Brian McCabe

EDOC program: EDNE

Contribution to effective assistance strategies to promote outdoor mobility for an ageing population

Within the transition towards a more inclusive and sustainable society, new solutions are arising in the field of assistive robotics. Lower-limbs exoskeletons have shown promising results to improve walking and balance, with the potential to increase the mobility of the elderly population and therefore promote a more inclusive and accessible community. Despite numerous existing devices in the literature, researchers are still investigating ways to achieve a safe and compliant collaboration between humans and wearable robots. To tackle this challenge, my thesis is focused on the user-centred design of assistive strategies for a powered hip exoskeleton. The control strategy will address the challenge of assisting diversified activities of daily living and, after laboratory assessments, it will be tested in outdoor environments. Qualitative and quantitative measurements will evaluate the effectiveness of the exoskeleton assistance in decreasing the perceived walking effort, avoiding sedentary lifestyle and reducing the risk of balance loss. 

Project dates: Feb 2023 – Jan 2027

Keywords: Sustainable mobility Lower-limbs exoskeleton Ageing population

Partner: Sonceboz

Laboratory: STI-BIOROB

Thesis director: Auke Jan Ijspeert – Mohamed Bouri

EDOC program: EDRS

Bottom-up de novo molecule and synthesis design from abundant renewable feedstocks

Producing high-value chemicals from inexpensive renewable sources could help to develop sustainable industrial processes. Biomass offers a cheap and abundant source of carbon building blocks. However, the adoption of these renewable feedstocks is limited by the lack of routes to important chemicals starting from these building blocks. My project aims to systematically explore the possible routes leading to biomass-based high-value substances. Thanks to AI and data-driven techniques, I’m generating and screening thousands of possible routes in the biomass chemical space, scoring the most promising transformations. These selected routes can be experimentally verified to discover more sustainable ways to produce valuable molecules. 

Project dates: Oct 2022 – Oct 2026

Keywords: Artificial intelligence – Biobased products – Sustainable chemistry

Partner: Atinary Technologies


Thesis director: Philippe Schwaller – Jeremy Luterbacher

EDOC program: EDCH

Enhancing optogenetic approaches for vision restoration in patients suffering from retinal degenerative diseases through designed photo-switchable proteins

Vision is an essential aspect of the quality of life and the impairment of sight represents a highly incapacitating condition. Vision dysfunction can be caused by obstruction of the light path to the neural retina or inability of the retina to detect and transmit light-triggered signals to the brain, the latter mechanism being prevalent in retinal degenerative diseases (RDDs). The goal of the project is to enhance and diversify optogenetic approaches for restoring vision in patients suffering from RDDs through the use of designed photo-switchable proteins, ultimately improving their quality of life. The first optogenetic strategy we propose involves designing light-inducible GPCR variants that have selective and enhanced coupling to specific G-proteins. Our second objective is to engineer a novel class of light-inducible G-protein activators that expose a soluble peptide designed to activate selective G-proteins upon light exposure. 

Project dates: Mar 2023 – Feb 2027

Keywords: Protein Design Optogenetics Vision Restoration

Partner: TBC

Laboratory: SV-IBI-UPBARTH

Thesis director: Patrick Barth

EDOC program: EDBB

Personalized Nutrition for Sustainable Health

The goal of personalised nutrition is to preserve or increase health using genetic, phenotypic, medical, nutritional, or other relevant information about an individual to deliver tailored recommendations. The rational being: a) response to dietary factors varies between individuals; b) personalised diets have more impact than general diets; c) personalisation supports long-term behaviour change. With the help of machine learning models trained on a large-scale digital nutritional tracking cohort called Food&You (>1000 participants), our aim is to control glucose responses in the general populace by recommending personalized healthier food/diet options, which could in principle, also be linked to sustainable food choices.

Project dates: Jan 2023 – Dec 2026

Keywords: Nutrition – Recommenders – Glucose response

Partner: TBC


Thesis director: Marcel Salathé

EDOC program: EDCB

Revolutionizing our understanding of the logic of brain circuits

Understanding how neurons in the brain function together (and become dysfunctional in disease) is essential to develop novel treatments for neurological or psychiatric disorders. For decades, motor neuron research has primarily focused on excitatory motor projections — when motor neurons fire, we get an excitatory response in the form of muscle movement. However, inhibitory projections might also contribute to motor control, allowing the correct motor neuron to fire at the correct time. This project aims to use a tractable model system and experimental data to characterise inhibitory projections in motor circuits and understand how their dysfunction contributes to neurological disease. 

Project dates: Jan 2023 – Dec 2026

Keywords: Neurons – Motor circuits – Synapses

Partner: Anindya Sen Prevail Therapeutics


Thesis director: Brian McCabe

EDOC program: EDNE

Accurate wind measurements in complex terrain for Swiss wind energy production

To cover Swiss energy demands according to the Swiss Energy Strategy 2050, wind and solar energy production must be greatly increased. A large part of this energy can be extracted via wind turbines in the Alps as winds are strong and occur often. Due to the complex terrain of mountains and slopes, the wind is hard to predict which hinders the progress of wind energy in Switzerland. Mathematical models exist but lack quality wind data at the height of the wind turbine to validate and improve wind energy prediction. A wind-doppler LiDAR uses lasers which reflect on aerosols such as water vapour and dust which provides us with information about the wind speed around the turbine. However, such wind energy measurement campaigns in the Alps are challenging and require innovative solutions. By using machine learning algorithms, we are able to connect this to the weather to fine-tune the models.

Project dates: Nov 2023 – Oct 2026

Keywords: Energy – Wind – LiDAR

Partner: MeteoTest

Laboratory: ENAC – IIE – CRYOS

Thesis director: Michael Lehning – Hendrik Huwald

EDOC program: EDCE

Horizontal Metropolis as a renewable resource: unlocking the sustainability potential of diffuse urbanization processes in Switzerland and Ukraine

The proposed research investigates the possibility of a more sustainable use of natural resources and cultural and social capital, including blue and green networks, soil and arable lands, cultural landscapes and infrastructure networks, in the context of horizontal metropolis, a territory with metropolitan qualities, yet stretching beyond a formal municipal jurisdiction. Utilizing the unique spatial scale offered by the horizontal metropolis concept, this research is empowered to address issues of resilience and self-reliance by integrating the phenomena seemingly distant from the ‘urban’, yet vital for welfare or even survival of human beings, including biodiversity, soil fertility and recultivation, and blue and green corridors, into planning of settlements, infrastructure, and free space. The research particularly focuses on the momentum of departure from a fixed territorial vision of a metropolis towards a more flexible and informal comprehension of the actual scale of urbanization, based on the case studies from Switzerland and Ukraine.

Project dates: Apr 2023 – Mar 2027

Keywords: Rural-urban linkages – Decentralization – Commons

Partner: TBC

Laboratory: LAB-U

Thesis director: Elena Cogato Lanza

EDOC program: EDAR

Development of high-quality and cost competitive diamond for photonic integrated circuits and quantum sensors

Diamond grown by chemical vapor deposition (CVD) is drawing increased attention from both scientific community and industry as a highly promising material for photonics and quantum sensing. The objective of this project is to advance the performances of CVD grown diamond thin films and large scale wafers in terms of fundamental physical properties, such as thermal conductivity or optical transparency and spin coherence time for photonics and quantum sensing. We aim to grow and micro-structure high-quality single crystalline diamond (thin layers) and highly oriented polycrystalline diamond (on large area substrates) for applications in photonic integrated circuits and quantum sensors.

Project dates: Mar 2023 – Feb 2027

Keywords: Diamond Photonic integrated circuits Quantum sensing

Partner: PROUD

Laboratory: SB-IPHY-LQNO

Thesis director: Christophe Galland – Mehdi Naamoun

EDOC program: EDMI

A physical-chemical approach towards the assessment of the biodegradability of plastics

My PhD project will make a contribution to the Energy-Food-Water-Land use connections. In this context packaging materials have an important role to play, due to their quantites, their energy content, their properties to conserve and protect goods, including food, and enventually also because of their potential to cause environmental problems at the End-of-Life (EoL) with potential pollution of water and soil bodies. In GR-LUD at EPFL, research aims to close the materials cycles or to recovert energy, in cases where materials re-use, recycling or recovery fail to reduce the overall environmental impacts. During my PhD I will study chemical-physical properties with a unique equipment available at EPFL aiming to predict the biodegradability of packaging materials to support the designing of EoL treatment processes for materials and energy recovery.

Project dates: Mar 2023 – Feb 2027

Keywords: End-of-Life – Knudsen Cell Reactors – Biodegradation testing

Partner: Niederreiter Gerhard

Laboratory: ENAC-IIE-GR-LUD

Thesis director: Christian Ludwig – Horst Pick

EDOC program: EDEY