On the auspicious day of the Neuchatel revolution (1 March, 1848), we kicked-off the BIO-DESIGN for the REAL WORLD bachelor’s project at EPFL.

We are lucky to have a group of 4 life science students in the 3rd year (Emilie, Jasmina, Nicolas, Romain in alphabetical order), who have taken the time to let us know why they were interested in participating on the project.

We had a very packed day. We started with a meet and greet skype sessions with Yashas in Bangalore (the students were away on holidays), followed by Timbil in Yogyakarta (the Lifepatch guys were also out on a night mission in town).

Then, we had introductions on real-world research from professors : from EPFL, Prof. Rizlan Bernier-Latmani (Environmental Microbiology Laboratory), Prof. Melanie Blokesch (Laboratory of Molecular Microbiology) and from UNIL, Prof. Jan van der Meer (Department of Fundamental Microbiology).


from left to right, Professors van der Meer, Bernier-Latmani, Blokesch

Prof. Bernier-Latmani discussed her research interest in immobilizing heavy metals Uranium and Chromium in ground water by enhancing existing microorganisms to grow and fixing the metals on their membranes. She also gave the basic water cycle. Her research is right in our backyard, and chromium contamination is prevalent where there is leather tanning.

Prof. Blokesch shared with us how her interest in cholera horizontal gene transfer took her and her collaborators to Haiti and to collaborate in Congo. Here, we heard about how basic research interests can help elucidate real world epidemic tracing, with collaborations in mapping with Prof. Andrea Rinaldo’s Laboratory of Ecohydrology – and how rivers and people movements are important in these two locations. Also, how global climate changes can affect infectious disease cycles and epidemiology was an interesting point.

Then, we had a great introduction on reporter bacteria, also specifically the arsenic reporter bacteria engineered in Prof. van der Meer’s lab. The Arsenic GFP reporter is already in Bangalore. There is also a bioluminescence based arsenic test in the field based on one of the bacteria. The way ARSOlux-biosensor kit deals with genetically modified organisms in the field is to freeze-dry the bacteria in a sealed vial, and bringing a portable luminometer.

An important point: Prof. van der Meer had one slide on the design/engineering of reporter bacteria. This can be applied as a flow chart for designing a water sensor as well.


We also put this and other impressions on the mind-map, which eventually grew by the end of the class, including community aspects, and what we heard from Yashas and Timbil.


All of the presentations were recorded on simple video, and we hope to upload this in a future post.

We are lucky to have Robin as one of the mentors for this project. He presented his safecast project, and we had a chance to check out his bGeigie – and the importance of the iterative prototyping process.

We also talked about the size of the concerned citizens, and why we are working on water and arsenic or E.coli with already engaged collaborators in Bangalore (metamap using DIY measurement devices) and Yogyakarta (River Project). To start small, and engineer devices to engage in conversations on water quality with the communities – this is one of the motivations behind researching in making a replicable portable device. We are lucky to have support from EPFL for this research project with youth/students from Switzerland, India, and Indonesia.

Finally, we reached the hands-on part – hello world, arduinos! Check out the pictures.

We parted with each person with a mission to look into different possible aspects (arsenic, fecal contamination; Swiss regulation on genetically modified organisms; mobile and field labs; how to map water quality) of the project, so we can define the design of the prototype.

See you next week!

4 thoughts on “Kick-off at EPFL

  1. Pingback: Kick-off day Presentations | biodesign for the real world

  2. Pingback: Semester Wrap-up at EPFL | biodesign for the real world

  3. Pingback: EPFL CODEV SEED grant Conference | biodesign for the real world

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