International Experiences

he goal of our IGERT International Collaboration Program is to have trainees and faculty, who are researching bio- and bio-inspired motion systems, lead efforts on a global front. Our international collaboration will follow three avenues. First, we will develop a specific, targeted program with the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology and the University of Zurich. Second, we will work with the Bionics Competence Network (BIOKON) in Germany to provide a broad range of choices for our trainees relevant to our research focus areas. Third, our Director of Career Development and International Relations and the IGERT Steering Committee will consider new opportunities as they develop.

Collaborative Program with the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology
CiBER-IGERT is pleased to partner with the Biologically-Inspired Robotics Group and the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at The Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), the Swiss Federal Institute in Lausanne, the Autonomous Systems Laboratory at the Swiss Federal Institute in Zurich (ETH) as well as the Artificial Intelligence Lab at the University of Zurich (UZH).

Capabilities and resources of hosts. The Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology and UZH are distinguished institutions of higher education, particularly in the research areas relevant to the CiBET-IGERT. Relevant departments at EPFL include: Manufacturing Systems and Robotics, Computer, Communication and Information Sciences, Biotechnology and Bioengineeing, Materials Science and Engineering and Neuroscience. The EPFL hosts nearly 1500 doctoral candidates with 25 researching bio-robotics. IGERT Trainees will have the opportunity to learn from and be supervised by 16 senior researchers from 6 different laboratories. In particular, IGERT Trainees will benefit from world-class expertise in biological and bio-inspired motion systems provided by EPFL’s Robotic Center with its Biologically-Inspired Robotics Group and the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems, the Institute of Bioengineering and the Brain and Mind Institute. Facilities accessible to IGERT Trainees include multiple robotic platforms: 3 humanoid robots, a variety of legged and mobile robots, various parallel robots, and haptic devices. At ETH programs include: the Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems, the Institute of Neuroinformatics (INI) and the Artificial Intelligence Lab at UZH. INI integrates various disciplines, including biology, engineering and physics. INI research groups’ focus range from neurophysiological and anatomical studies to behavioral analysis and implementation of neuromorphic sensors in autonomous robots. In UZH’s AI Laboratory, trainees will be involved in various projects, such as legged and underwater locomotion, hand prosthetic, humanoid and educational robotics. Platforms include the running quadruped ‘Puppy’, the fish-like swimming ‘Wanda’ and hopping ‘Stumpy’. Each program offers multiple courses, all in English. Institutes have several technical shops with qualified staff including mechanical, electronic designs, and one for fabricating PCBs. Trainees collaborating with INI, the Brain and Mind Institute and the Center of Biomedical Imagery will have access to high-end facilities such as a BlueGene supercomputer and a 14 Tesla MRI machine.

Selection and preparation. To apply for an international collaborative experience, IGERT Trainees will consult with their Mentoring Team, the appropriate international laboratory and then submit a research and training proposal in their first year (Stage 1). The proposal will include a detailed milestone plan outlining the concrete research goals, and the specific seminars, workshops and short courses to be attended along with a letter of support from the international host. Upon IGERT Steering Committee approval, trainees will begin their international experience in their second year (Stage 2). Four months prior to departure an arrangement will be made in which the host investigator commits to supervising the trainee for the agreed upon duration, thus allotting sufficient time for the student to obtain adequate travel documents (visas, passports; Swissnex has agreed to facilitate). The duration of the visits will last from 1 to 3 months based on our detailed planning conversations with laboratory sponsors. There will be no tuition and the use of all facilities will be free. Although most instruction and research communication is in English, students will address language proficiency issues through The UC Berkeley Language Center.

Mentoring and training. Upon arrival visiting scholars will be provided with high-end personal computers and office space at the host institution. In their first week IGERT Trainees will introduce themselves to the research community by giving a seminar in which they present their past and present research activities, as well as their academic goals set for the duration of the visit.
Working with institution directors, we have identified prospective mentors in IGERT research focus areas. These include: at EPFL in the Robotic Center, Billard, (humanoid robotics), Bleuler (medical robotics), Clavel (high-precision robotics), Floreano (intelligent systems), Ijspeert (bio-robotics), Martinoli (swarm robotics); in the Institute of Bioengineering, Aminian (movement analysis), Hubbell (biomaterials), Pioletti (biomechanical orthopedics), Swartz (mechanobiology); in the Brain and Mind Institute, Blanke (cognitive neuroscience), Gerstner (computational neuroscience), Herzog (psychophysics), Markram (neural microcircuitry) and Petersen (sensory processing); at ETH in IRIS Nelson (multi-scale robotics), Siegwart (autonomous systems), Riener (sensor-motor systems), in INI Douglas (neuromorphic robots) and Stoop (nonlinear biocomputation) and at UZH Pfeifer (AI robotics).

IGERT Trainees will receive credits for participating in courses, workshops and in events at EPFL such as the Robotics Seminar Series, as well as weekly and monthly meetings held at the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems, the Biologically Inspired Research Group and the Neural Computation Lab. INI courses include: Information Processing in Neural Networks; Theoretical Neuroscience; Systems Neuroscience; Dynamical Systems in Biology; Neuromorphic Computational Vision; Calculable Chaos in Dynamical Systems; Neuroscience: From Networks to Systems. INI has weekly presentations of ongoing research, a literature colloquium, and other activities that promote exchange.

Benefit to all trainees. Returning trainees will be expected to give a seminar in the weekly IGERT Seminar Series and to submit a five-page report describing their learning experience resulting from lectures and workshops and research results. The report will be submitted to the IGERT Mentoring Team, the IGERT Director of Career Development and International Relations and host supervisor one week prior to departure. The report will be made available to other trainees.


Using the Collaborative Network of BIOKON throughout Germany
Germany is a world leader in ‘Bioniks’, the scientific discipline integrating Biology and ‘Technik’ or engineering to deal with the technical implementation and application of constructional, processing, and developmental principles of biological systems. To this end in 2001, the Federal Ministry for Education and Research funded the creation of The Bionics Competence Network (BIOKON) that now connects 70 universities, institutes and research facilities throughout Germany. This nationwide network provides an ideal forum for scientific exchange because it represents an association of experts with proven competence in the field of bionics who are actively contributing to this scientific discipline’s further development and applications in research, education, business and industry, politics and culture. A major goal of the network is organize and facilitate education and training through internships in bionics.

Fortunately, BIOKON has established a series of permanent committees representing focus areas. All committees are organized with a chairing BIOKON member and active participating centers are represented by their respective members and facilities. The participation in a particular committee reflects the specific focus or interest of a member within the field of bionics. Committees matching our bio- and bio-inspired motion systems IGERT include: Mechanics – fluid dynamics, flying, swimming, and robotics; Biomechatronics, biomedical technology, MEMS, actuatorics and robotics; Sensorics, information processing, and communication; Light-weight material constructions; Surfaces and interfaces – structures and functions; and Bionic optimization methods.

Our IGERT Trainee visits will be facilitated by elected BIOKON board member Professor Antonia Kesel from the Bionik-Innovations-Centrum, Hochschule Bremen. Trainees interested in an international experience will send Professor Kesel a proposal with their interests. She will post their information to the BIOKON Network to match them with a potential laboratory. She will also assist in directing searches of the network’s universities, institutions and research facilities for trainees who wish to explore new areas, and will help them make the necessary connections. After finding a host, trainees will submit a proposal to their IGERT Mentoring Team as well as the Director of Career Development and International Relations. Should all parties agree, the IGERT Steering Committee will consider the proposal and allocate funding. General support guidelines will be provided, but requests tailored to particular experiences will be considered. Reporting requirements benefiting all trainees will follow that described for the Swiss collaboration.



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