The school was founded by the Swiss Federal Government with the stated mission to:
- Educate engineers and scientists
- Be a national center of excellence in science and technology
- Provide a hub for interaction between the scientific community and industry
EPFL is located in the French-speaking part of Switzerland; the sister institution in the German-speaking part of Switzerland is the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich). Associated with several specialised research institutes, the two universities form the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology Domain (ETH Domain), which is directly dependent on the Federal Department of Home Affairs. In connection with research and teaching activities, EPFL operates a nuclear reactor CROCUS, a Tokamak Fusion reactor, a Blue Gene/Q Supercomputer and P3 bio-hazard facilities.
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne research articles from Innovation Toronto
- New remote-controlled microrobots for medical operations – July 23, 2016
- Electricity generated with water, salt and a 3-atoms-thick membrane produces 1MW per 1m² – July 14, 2016
- Researchers come up with a new and effective anonymity network in light of the Tor problem – July 12, 2016
- Lasers carve the path to overcome major limitations to tissue engineering – June 25, 2016
- Reclaiming the immune system’s assault on tumors – June 15, 2016
- New tool brings personalized medicine closer – June 11, 2016
- A vitamin that stops the aging process of organs – April 29, 2016<
- An implant to prevent Alzheimer’s – March 18, 2016
- New bionic fingertip can ‘feel’ texture – March 8, 2016
- Stretchable electronics that quadruple in length – March 1, 2016
- Infection-fighting bandages for serious burns – February 29, 2016
- Soft Electronic Robotic Fingers Take Robotics to a Whole New Level – February 3, 2016
- Cheaper solar cells with 20.2% efficiency – January 19, 2016
- Treating colon cancer with vitamin A – December 15, 2015
- New method can make cheaper solar energy storage – July 3, 2015
- Disabled people pilot a robot remotely with their thoughts – June 28, 2015
- A chip placed under the skin for more precise medicine – May 27, 2015
- Telescopic contact lenses and wink-control glasses – February 16, 2015
- Electronic circuits with reconfigurable pathways closer to reality – January 27, 2015
- Neuroprosthetics for paralysis: an new implant on the spinal cord – January 9, 2015
- Detecting extraterrestrial life through motion – December 31, 2014
- A cost-effective and energy-efficient approach to carbon capture – October 10, 2014
- High Efficiency Achieved for Harvesting Hydrogen Fuel From the Sun using Earth-Abundant Materials – September 26, 2014
- A Drone That Finds Survivors Through Their Phones – July 18, 2014
- A new stable and cost-cutting type of perovskite solar cell – July 18, 2014
- Getting a grip on robotic grasp – July 18, 2014
- Transforming hydrogen into liquid fuel using atmospheric CO2 – June 7, 2014
- Ultra-fast, the robotic arm can catch objects on the fly – May 13, 2014
- A Device to Prevent Falls in the Elderly
- An improved, cost-effective catalyst for water-splitting devices | PEC
- Team creates a low cost thin film photovoltaic device with high energy efficiency | thin film solar cells
- EPFL Campus has the World’s First Solar Window
- EPFL presents a modular aircraft at Le Bourget
- 10 times more throughput on optic fibers
- Peering into the future: How cities grow
- Penguin-inspired propulsion system
- Robust Flight in Cluttered Indoor Environments
- A natural boost for MRI scans
- NTU scientists make breakthrough solar technology – 5 times cheaper!
- Visualized Heartbeat Can Trigger ‘Out-of-Body Experience’
- Durable, Bacteria-killing Surface works in Less than a Minute
- Dye-sensitized solar cells rival conventional cell efficiency
- Champion nano-rust for producing solar hydrogen
- A Telescope For Your Eye: New Contact Lens Design May Improve Sight of Patients with Macular Degeneration
- VIDEO: A robot that runs like a cat
- Air bubbles could be the secret to artificial skin
- Scientists Finding Plastic Pollutants in Global Waters
- CurvACE gives robots a bug’s eye view
- Slowing the aging process — only with antibiotics
- Nanowires with the power to transform solar energy
- Salamandra robotica
- Under the skin, a tiny laboratory implant
- AirBurr MAV Navigates by Bouncing Off Walls and Floors
- The quest for a better bionic hand
- Blind Patient Reads Words Stimulated Directly Onto the Retina
- VIDEO: Using rust and water to store solar energy as hydrogen
- Discovery of a revolutionary type of gel
- $2500 in photovoltaic cells could provide enough electricity for the consumption of a 4 person household
- “Nano-velcro” traps and detects heavy metals in contaminated waterways
- One-molecule-thick material has big advantages
- Swiss Flying Torpedo Bot Crashes, Dusts Itself Off and Flies Again
- Paralyzed Patient Moves Robot With Their Mind
- Machine Counterpart: Nature’s New Creatures
- Getting to the Moon On Drops of Fuel
- Giving research a boost with cheaper biochips
- Swiss satellite being sent to clean up the mess in outer space
- Taiwan researchers claim breakthrough in solar cell technology
- A new motor for the watch of tomorrow
- Chance Discovery May Revolutionize Hydrogen Production
- Virgin Oceanic’s ambitious plans to explore Earth’s last frontier
- Brain-Machine Interfaces Make Gains by Learning About Their Users, Letting Them Rest, and Allowing for Multitasking
- A more user-friendly brain-machine interface
- Researchers develop device that remotely explodes IEDs using electromagnetic energy
- Molybdenite outshines silicon and graphene for electronic applications
- Graham Hawkes explains how a Deep Flight sub can ‘fly’ underwater
- Researchers develop genuine 3D camera
- ‘Racetrack memory’ could be 100,000 times faster than hard drives
- Steeper project hopes to make electronic devices more energy efficient
- Aerial swarming robots to create communications networks for disaster relief
- Laser projector for smartphones on the way
- Insect-inspired device lets micro air vehicles perch on vertical surfaces
- When Will We Be Able to Build Brains Like Ours?
- Recharging Your Cellphone, Mother Nature’s Way
- LPD: Prysm’s New Acronym Promises Huge Screens, 75% Less Power Consumption
- 3-D Microchips for More Powerful and Environmentally Friendly Computers
An EPFL team is developing soft, flexible and reconfigurable robots. Air-actuated, they behave like human muscles and may be used in physical rehabilitation. They are made of low-cost materials and could easily be produced on a large scale.
Robots are usually expected to be rigid, fast and efficient. But researchers at EPFL’s Reconfigurable Robotics Lab (RRL) have turned that notion on its head with their soft robots.
Soft robots, powered by muscle-like actuators, are designed to be used on the human body in order to help people move. They are made of elastomers, including silicon and rubber, and so they are inherently safe. They are controlled by changing the air pressure in specially designed ‘soft balloons’, which also serve as the robot’s body. A predictive model that can be used to carefully control the mechanical behavior of the robots’ various modules has just been published in Nature – Scientific Reports.
Potential applications for these robots include patient rehabilitation, handling fragile objects, biomimetic systems and home care. “Our robot designs focus largely on safety,” said Jamie Paik, the director of the RRL. “There’s very little risk of getting hurt if you’re wearing an exoskeleton made up of soft materials, for example” she added.
A model for controlling the actuators
In their article, the researchers showed that their model could accurately predict how a series of modules – composed of compartments and sandwiched chambers – moves. The cucumber-shaped actuators can stretch up to around five or six times their normal length and bend in two directions, depending on the model.
“We conducted numerous simulations and developed a model for predicting how the actuators deform as a function of their shape, thickness and the materials they’re made of,” said Gunjan Agarwal, the article’s lead author.
One of the variants consists of covering the actuator in a thick paper shell made by origami. This test showed that different materials could be used. “Elastomer structures are highly resilient but difficult to control. We need to be able to predict how, and in which direction, they deform. And because these soft robots are easy to produce but difficult to model, our step-by-step design tools are now available online for roboticists and students.”
A rehabilitation belt
In addition to these simulations, other RRL researchers have developed soft robots for medical purposes. This work is described in Soft Robotics. One of their designs is a belt made of several inflatable components, which holds patients upright during rehabilitation exercises and guides their movements.
“We are working with physical therapists from the University Hospital of Lausanne (CHUV) who are treating stroke victims,” said Matthew Robertson, the researcher in charge of the project. “The belt is designed to support the patient’s torso and restore some of the person’s motor sensitivity.”
The belt’s soft actuators are made of pink rubber and transparent fishing line. The placement of the fishing line guides the modules’ deformation very precisely when air is injected. “For now, the belt is hooked up to a system of external pumps. The next step will be to miniaturize this system and put it directly on the belt,” said Robertson.
Adaptable and reconfigurable robots
Potential applications for soft actuators don’t stop there. The researchers are also using them to develop adaptable robots that are capable of navigating around in cramped, hostile environments. And because they are completely soft, they should also be able to withstand squeezing and crushing.
“Using soft actuators, we can come up with robots of various shapes that can move around in diverse environments,” said Paik. “They are made of inexpensive materials, and so they could easily be produced on a large scale. This will open new doors in the field of robotics.”
Learn more: Soft robots that mimic human muscles
For the past few years, scientists around the world have been studying ways to use miniature robots to better treat a variety of diseases. The robots are designed to enter the human body, where they can deliver drugs at specific locations or perform precise operations like clearing clogged-up arteries. By replacing invasive, often complicated surgery, they could optimize medicine.
EPFL scientist Selman Sakar teamed up with Hen-Wei Huang and Bradley Nelson at ETHZ to develop a simple and versatile method for building such bio-inspired robots and equipping them with advanced features. They also created a platform for testing several robot designs and studying different modes of locomotion. Their work, published in Nature Communications, produced complex reconfigurable microrobots that can be manufactured with high throughput. They built an integrated manipulation platform that can remotely control the robots’ mobility with electromagnetic fields, and cause them to shape-shift using heat.
A robot that looks and moves like a bacterium
Unlike conventional robots, these microrobots are soft, flexible, and motor-less. They are made of a biocompatible hydrogel and magnetic nanoparticles. These nanoparticles have two functions. They give the microrobots their shape during the manufacturing process, and make them move and swim when an electromagnetic field is applied.
Two research projects of the National Research Programme “Resource Wood” have developed new processes to replace petroleum with wood for the production of important chemicals. These precursors are used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, plastics or fertilisers.
Petroleum means fuel, but not only: petrochemicals are a core ingredient of the chemical industry. Without oil, there would be no plastics and few pharmaceuticals or fertilisers. Finding a renewable resource as an alternative to oil will be crucial to face the foreseeable decline in oil extraction.
Two research projects of the National Research Programme “Resource Wood” (NRP 66) have made significant advances towards replacing oil with biomass derived from plants, in particular from wood. Their goals are complementary, as each one uses one of the two main constituents of wood: cellulose and lignin. These are the two most common organic components on Earth and, importantly, are renewable.
Sviatlana Siankevich of EPFL has designed new catalytic processes to efficiently transform cellulose into hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), a very important precursor for the production of plastics, fertilisers or biofuels.(*) Inspired by the action of fungi degrading rotting wood, the team of Philippe Corvini at FHNW in Muttenz (BL) has selected enzymes capable of cutting lignin into aromatic compounds useful for making solvents, pesticides, plastics such as polystyrenes as well as active pharmaceutical ingredients.
Chemicals instead of paper
Cellulose is a long chain of carbohydrate (sugar) molecules and accounts for about two-thirds of wood’s weight. “It is mainly used for paper production, and the residuals could be better valorised by being transformed into useful chemicals,” says Sviatlana Siankevich of EPFL’s Institute of Chemical Sciences and Engineering. With colleagues from Queen’s University in Canada and the National University of Singapore, the EPFL team led by chemist Paul Dyson synthesised several types of ionic liquids (molten salts) to convert cellulose into HMF, an important molecule for the production of commodity chemicals. In a single step, their reaction reached a 62% yield, a new record.
“Our procedure operates at mild conditions, that is, without very high temperatures or pressure or strong acids”, says Siankevich. “We’ve also been able to reduce the amount of undesired by-products, an important point if the reaction is to be scaled up for industrial processes. Our process can work with wood, but it’s often easier to use cellulose extracted from herbaceous plants.”
A new technique, developed at EPFL, combines microfluidics and lasers to guide cells in 3D space, overcoming major limitations to tissue engineering.
Future medicine is bound to include extensive tissue-engineering technologies such as organs-on-chips and organoids – miniature organs grown from stem cells. But all this is predicated on a simple yet challenging task: controlling cellular behavior in three dimensions. So far, most cell culture approaches are limited to two-dimensional environments (e.g. a Petri dish or a chip), but that neither matches real biology nor helps us sculpt tissues and organs. Two EPFL scientists have now developed a new method that uses lasers to carve out paths inside biocompatible gels to locally influence cell function and promote tissue formation. The work is published in Advanced Materials.
In the body, cells grow in 3D microspaces that are specific to each type of tissue – liver, kidney, lung, heart, brain etc. These microenvironments are important because they control the behavior of the cells, e.g. how they interact with other parts of the tissue to help it develop, function, and repair. In addition, the microenvironments themselves are very dynamic and adaptable, sending the cells various biochemical signals to adapt their behavior to physiological changes.
This means that any successful merging of biology and engineering must first be able to grow cells in custom-built yet biologically active 3D spaces. Working at EPFL’s Institute of Bioengineering, Matthias Lütolf and his PhD student Nathalie Brandenberg have developed a method that uses a laser to cut three-dimensional pathways and networks for cells inside a hydrogel scaffold that matches their natural environment.
The method combines lasers with microfluidics – the science of controlling fluids in micrometer-sized spaces. Here, the scientists used focalized short-pulsed lasers, which can generate enough power to create tiny tunnels in different biocompatible gels already used in cell biology and tissue engineering. The laser can be applied before or even during 3D cell culture, meaning that the cells can be controlled in real time to match their natural growth.
Macrophages are cells of the immune system that protect the host from invading pathogens. But in cancer, macrophages can be “hijacked” by tumors, and made to support their malignant growth and spread. This is a drawback for a major cancer treatment, immunotherapy, which turns the body’s immune system against the tumor. EPFL scientists, working with colleagues at the Roche Innovation Centers in Munich and Basel, have now identified a molecular “switch” that can convert the “hijacked” macrophages into cells that can stimulate the immune system to fight the growth and spread of cancer. The work is published in Nature Cell Biology.
Along with attacking foreign pathogens like bacteria, macrophages also help the body’s organs develop and its wounds heal. Their own behavior is fine-tuned by small molecules that they produce, called microRNAs.
When a tumor begins to develop, macrophages attempt to block its growth. But often tumors hijack them and convert them into what are known as “tumor-associated macrophages”, or TAMs for short.
Now corrupted, TAMs use their microRNAs to shield the tumor from the patient’s immune system, helping it grow and metastasize. This phenomenon is common across many tumor types. It is one of the major obstacles in treating cancer, and often leads to a poor prognosis for the patient.
Michele De Palma’s team at EPFL found how to reclaim TAMs. The researchers genetically modified TAMs to remove their ability to produce microRNAs. As a result, the TAMs were reprogrammed dramatically. Instead of protecting the tumor, the TAMs now signaled the presence of the tumor to the immune system, triggering attacks against it – and did so very efficiently.
In order to fight invading pathogens, the immune system uses “outposts” throughout the body, called lymph nodes. These are small, centimeter-long organs that filter fluids, get rid of waste materials, and trap pathogens, e.g. bacteria or viruses. Lymph nodes are packed with immune cells, and are known to grow in size, or ‘swell’, when they detect invading pathogens. But now, EPFL scientists have unexpectedly discovered that lymph nodes also produce more immune cells when the host is infected with a more complex invader: an intestinal worm.
The discovery is published in Cell Reports, and has significant implications for our understanding of how the immune system responds to infections.
The discovery was made by the lab of Nicola Harris at EPFL. Her postdoc and first author Lalit Kumar Dubey noticed that the lymph nodes of mice that had been infected with the intestinal wormHeligmosomoides polygyrus bakeri had massively grown in size. This worm is an excellent tool for studying how the worm interacts with its host, and is therefore used as a standard throughout labs working in the field.
Lymph nodes have microscopic compartments called “follicles”, where they store a specific type of immune cells, the B-cells. Stored in the follicles, B-cells pump out antibodies into the bloodstream to attack invading pathogens.
The researchers found that the mouse lymph nodes were actually producing more follicles, suggesting they were producing more B-cells in response to the worm infection. Of course, this is not a simple event. Like many biological processes, it involves an entire sequence of molecular signals that result in the formation of new cells and tissue.
The EPFL scientists were able to reconstruct the molecular sequence, which is fairly complex: when the mouse is infected with the intestinal worm, a “cytokine” molecule is produced. This cytokine then stimulates B-cells in the lymph nodes to produce a molecule called a lymphotoxin. The lymphotoxin then interacts with the cells that form the foundation of the actual lymph node – the so-called “stromal cells”. The stromal cells then produce another cytokine, which stimulates the production of new follicles in the lymph node.
Nicotinamide riboside rejuvenates stem cells, allowing better regeneration processes in aged mice
Nicotinamide riboside (NR) is pretty amazing. It has already been shown in several studies to be effective in boosting metabolism. And now a team of researchers at EPFL’s Laboratory of Integrated Systems Physiology (LISP), headed by Johan Auwerx, has unveiled even more of its secrets. An article written by Hongbo Zhang, a PhD student on the team, was published today in Science and describes the positive effects of NR on the functioning of stem cells. These effects can only be described as restorative.
As mice, like all mammals, age, the regenerative capacity of certain organs (such as the liver and kidneys) and muscles (including the heart) diminishes. Their ability to repair them following an injury is also affected. This leads to many of the disorders typical of aging.
Mitochondria: also useful in stem cells
Hongbo Zhang wanted to understand how the regeneration process deteriorated with age. To do so, he teamed up with colleagues from ETH Zurich, the University of Zurich and universities in Canada and Brazil. Through the use of several markers, he was able to identify the molecular chain that regulates how mitochondria – the “powerhouse” of the cell – function and how they change with age. The role that mitochondria play in metabolism has already been amply demonstrated, “but we were able to show for the first time that their ability to function properly was important for stem cells,” said Auwerx.
Under normal conditions, these stem cells, reacting to signals sent by the body, regenerate damaged organs by producing new specific cells. At least in young bodies. “We demonstrated that fatigue in stem cells was one of the main causes of poor regeneration or even degeneration in certain tissues or organs,” said Hongbo Zhang.
EPFL scientists have built a single-atom magnet that is the most stable to-date. The breakthrough paves the way for the scalable production of miniature magnetic storage devices.
Magnetic storage devices such as computer hard drives or memory cards are widespread today. But as computer technology grows smaller, there is a need to also miniaturize data storage. This is epitomized by an effort to build magnets the size of a single atom. However, a magnet that small is very hard to keep “magnetized”, which means that it would be unable to retain information for a meaningful amount time.
In a breakthrough study published in Science, researchers led by EPFL have now built a single-atom magnet that, although working at around 40 Kelvin (-233.15 oC), is the smallest and most stable to date.
The invention could be used in future devices to transmit wireless data ten times faster.
Graphene acts like polarized sunglasses Their microchip works by protecting sources of wireless data — which are essentially sources of invisible radiation — from unwanted radiation, ensuring that the data remain intact by reducing source corruption. They discovered that graphene can filter out radiation in much the same way as polarized glasses.
It could be the key to large-scale implementation of carbon capture
Carbon capture is a process by which waste carbon dioxide (CO2) released by factories and power plants is collected and stored away, in order to reduce global carbon emissions. There are two major ways of carbon capture today, one using powder-like solid materials which “stick” to CO2, and one using liquids that absorb it. Despite their potential environmental and energy benefits, current carbon capture strategies are prohibitive because of engineering demands, cost and overall energy-efficiency. Collaborating scientists from EPFL, UC Berkley and Beijing have combined carbon-capturing solids and liquids to develop a “slurry” that offers the best of both worlds: as a liquid it is relatively simple to implement on a large scale, while it maintains the lower costs and energy efficiency of a solid carbon-capturing material. The breakthrough method is published in Nature Communications.
The most common approach to carbon capture uses liquid amine solutions, which can absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. On a large scale, the system uses two columns, one for capturing CO2 and the other for releasing it from the liquid, in a process referred to as “regeneration”. For amine solutions, regeneration is the most energy-consuming part because the CO2 is so strongly bound to the amine molecules that it is necessary to actually boil them in order to separate them.
An alternative to liquids is to use solid materials known as “metal-organic frameworks” (MOFs). These are fine powders whose particles are made up of metal atoms that are connected into a 3D structure with organic linkers. Their surface is covered with nano-size pores that collect CO2 molecules. But despite its lower cost, as this method involves transporting solids it is very demanding in terms of engineering. Berend Smit, Director of the Energy Center at EPFL, explains: “Imagine trying to walk with a plateful of baby powder. It’s going to go everywhere, and it’s very difficult to control.”
Working with scientists from Beijing and UC Berkeley, Smit is a lead author on a breakthrough carbon-capture innovation that uses a mixture of solid and liquid in solution called a “slurry”. The solid part of the slurry is a MOF called ZIF-8, which is suspended in a 2-methylimidazole glycol liquid mixture.
“Why a slurry?” says Smit. “Because in the materials that are currently used for adsorption the pores are too large and the surrounding liquid would fill them, and not let them capture CO2 molecules. So here we looked at a material – ZIF-8 – whose pores are too small for the glycol’s molecules to fit, but big enough for capturing the CO2 molecules from flue gas.”
ZIF-8 is a good material for carbon-capturing slurries, because it displays excellent solution, chemical and thermal stability, which is important for repeated regeneration cycles. ZIF-8 crystals have narrow pores (3.4 Å in diameter) that are smaller than the diameter of glycol molecules (4.5 Å), preventing them from entering. Even though other liquids were tested in the design of the slurry, including ethanol, hexane, methylbenzene and tetrachloromethane, their molecules are small enough to enter the ZIF-8 pores and reduce its carbon capturing efficiency. In this respect, glycerol has so far been shown to be an ideal liquid.