A not-so conventional (study) trip to Switzerland
This was a week trip full of memories where we visited many of the well-known institutes in Switzerland (from 19th to 25th february 2023).
Story by Abi
Switzerland, a country in the heart of Europe, is said to be a heavenly place on the planet. But wait, why would anyone go there for a study trip? Well, It just so happens to be one of the prominent countries when it comes to trending technological advancements, mainly dominating the world of AI and HPC.
As fellow MS HPC-AI students from Mines Paris in France, this trip was an ideal place to see how state-of-the-art research about AI and HPC is evolving. We hear the buzz about AI, and how it will take over the world one day. But, quite honestly, it still performs mundane tasks or things that humans cannot do manually. But, it is widely used by all of us realizing it. Nonetheless, It is a hard problem to solve that requires a lot of research, and resources that help to embed this technology in many sectors. High-Performance Computing (HPC) or Supercomputing is one such resource that we can leverage to crunch the numbers!
Discussions about a plane to Zurich ended up being unheard since some of us just love trains way too much without forgetting of course the carbon footprint plane vs train! We all started our journey from Antibes to Paris. Spent a day in the beautiful city. But, Zurich was our main destination where we arrived on Sunday afternoon to witness a perfect weather! I mean, it couldn’t be better!
After arriving at the hotel, we just threw our luggage in our rooms and headed for a walk towards the famous lake of Zurich admiring the architecture alongside.
Rest of the day was free since the main trip began on Monday. Football fanatics among us couldn’t help but visit the famous FIFA Museum. It’s a different feeling when you see the real world cup!
At the end of the day, Prof Youssef MESRI arrived with a minibus to have comfortable visits ahead. Dr. Claude Tadonki, the 2nd senior companion of the trip arrived in the evening to complete the MS HPC-AI group.
Takeaway of the day was, even with a perfect weather, one can break a sweat just by looking at the price tag of a water here!
Just a quick shout-out to Clément Sicard, a data science intern at Northvolt Ett, who discussed how they leverage Machine Learning to identify defects in batteries, and contribute towards carbon-neutral ways of manufacturing batteries.
The city of Bern, roughly one and a half drive away from Zurich, was a perfect start to our study trip.
Our first visit was at the University of Bern’s center for AI in Medicine (CAIM). Their research is dedicated towards providing better solutions in the healthcare industry. By collaborating with medical and AI experts, they research on wide spectrum of healthcare solutions.
We first got our hands on experimenting with Virtual Reality to explore the black-box of AI that visually represented neurons and their activations when deep learning models perform inference. Afterwards, they demonstrated their novel research for lung diseases, diet analysis of diabetic patients, and how they dealt with vague data from COVID-19 to find patterns that can help us in the future to deal with similar situations.
Another significant aspect of their research was on assisting surgeons using AI when performing surgeries such as Cataract removal or detecting gastric cancer cells using imaging techniques.
For the second half of the day, we visited SITEM-INSEL where they gave us a glimpse of how they use HPC to simulate disturbances around valves for studying cardiovascular diseases.
A huge thanks to Mauricio Reyes for hosting us.
Rest of the evening was spent walking and enjoying the city with a side quest of finding a good place to eat.
Zurich is the main hotspot in Switzerland of all things tech. We spent the next 2 days in the city visiting many places.
Starting with Swiss Data Science Center (SDSC) who showed how they collaborate with different organizations for providing Machine Learning solutions. They presented some of their projects in the field of Aerodynamics, Physics, and Architecture.
The next stop was Google where we met Ahmed Kachkach who is a software engineer working in recommendation systems. It was an informal discussion with him where he answered some of our questions that were centered around working at Google along with a tour of the office. They have a really great coffee there!
At the end of the day, we visited the office of Rockstar recruiting where they gave us a presentation of the current trends in the market for AI. It was important to acquire this knowledge for finding good opportunities in the future.
Next day, We visited Huawei Research Center to have discussions with some of their research engineers, and understand how they leverage both AI, and HPC for many of the Huawei solutions such as cloud.
ETH Zurich was the climax of the day, where we met with Prof Siddhartha Mishra (Dept of Mathematics), and his team. They presented challenges of solving Partial Differential Equations with conventional methods as well as Physics-informed Machine Learning. They explained the importance of solving PDEs, for instance, solving wave equations for Tsunamis, and how we can exploit Physics information in Machine Learning for modelling simulations that can save many lives by obtaining results quickly! We also discussed how Physics can improve ML algorithms.
We saw the italian side of the country here. Our first meetup was at IDSIA, a world-class research institute in AI. The famous LSTM algorithm was invented here! Prof Andrea Emilio Rizzoli gave us an overview of how the institute runs different labs, and their education systems for Master’s, and Bachelor’s programs.
We were all excited for the second visit of the day at Swiss National Supercomputing Center (CSCS) where they demonstrated the structure of the facility, different generations of supercomputers, different kinds of applications running on the computer, and how the cooling system works (It’s Switzerland! So, cold water from the lake at 763 Liters/sec!), etc. It was a very informative session. Finally, we witnessed Piz Daint, and the (latest) Alps supercomputers. It was loud enough that we had to wear headphones just to listen to a person standing next to us. But this was a must-go place for us HPC-AI students.
We moved closer to France running into the real Alps. The town of Martigny is covered by beautiful snow-capped mountains all around.
We were hosted by IDIAP Research Institute who organized a series of presentations throughout the day. They gave us an overview of different research departments covering wide range of topics such as Computational Biology, Transferring knowledge using multilingual models in NLP, Applied machine learning on window blinds for energy conservation, and Challenges in Robotics using Reinforcement Learning. We had the opportunity to show one of the projects from our program as well.
Finally, they gave us a tour of their vision labs working on synthetic face detection, and contactless biometrics using blood vessels in our fingers, and also their robotics lab.
It was difficult to find a time to do other activities, but we managed to squeeze in some sightseeing sessions at night or in between our main activities along with multiple coffees, and chocolates.
This week-long trip was a much-needed break to explore how AI and HPC are used in the industry and research.
As we stayed in Zurich for most of the trip, there was a restaurant named Culmann, not too far from our hotel that became our go-to place for most of the nights! There was always a debate about Panna Cotta Vs Tiramisu. But everyone agreed on their Pizzas! 🤌