Peter Breuer – Campus Update 2021

I just checked when I gave the last update of my university life and was astonished to discover that around 1.5 years have passed since then! That means I’m going to have to take quite a stroll down memory lane for this one 😉

The last time I wrote, I had just passed the first-year examinations and was embarking on the third semester of my BSc mechanical engineering studies at ETH Zurich. At the moment, I am enjoying the second day of my one week holiday before the next (sixth) semester. That means I have just finished my 5th semester exams.

To begin with, let me elaborate upon the most significant milestones and adventures I have experienced over the course of the last 17 months. After my first year exams, I made numerous trips to the Swiss Alps to pursue my passion for mountain biking, hiking and photography. Specifically, I began by exploring a few of Switzerland’s many supreme enduro MTB locations. On the first weekend I attended the opening event of Alpenbikepark Chur and had the opportunity to test ride many if my dream bikes. The next stop was Crans Montana in the astonishingly beautiful and remote Valais region of Switzerland. Finally, the tour ended in the high-elevation Engadin mountains around St. Moritz. These trips were truly a dream come true for me, as one of the reasons I chose to study in Switzerland was the vast offer of outdoor recreation opportunities. Feel free to watch my video of this adventure below.

Engadin Photo by Peter Breuer

In the third semester, I worked as a teaching assistant in the “Computer Aided Design and Technical Drawing” course for first semester students. Being my first formal teaching position, this was an exciting experience that broadened my social skills. I pursued sports by going to the gym and playing badminton with the academic sports association and running by myself in my free time. By the middle if the semester – after attending at least a dozen “WG castings” (Flatshare interviews) – I finally moved to Zurich city, in fact right to the Hönggerberg campus (one of the two main ETH campuses). This was a huge game-changer as it meant I no longer had to commute an hour from Winterthur (where I had lived during the first three semesters). I shared the apartment with six other ETH students from across the world. Even though I missed the serenity of my previous suburban housing at times, being surrounded by so many other students and living in closer proximity to my friends made student life so much more enjoyable in every aspect. As examples, I found a running group and began regularly consuming large amounts of cheese with my (mainly swiss) friends.

Moving on to the fourth semester: for the first time, one is given the freedom to complement their obligatory courses with other subjects of one’s own choice. To a certain extent, this marked the completion of the “fundamental” engineering prerequisites. My optional courses were quantum mechanics, an introductory computational science class and an advanced control systems class. A couple of months into the 4th semester, ETH fully closed down for everyone except the employees as a consequence of the dawn of the new corona virus. I can remember that this was a shocking surprise for everyone at the time – whilst in retrospect it seems perfectly logical. The transition to online teaching was a smooth one and in fact I can’t say that it has compromised my learning. From then on and up to this date, I would spend around 10 hours at my desk at home every day of the workweek. Fortunately, one of my friend groups had already established a “discord server”, so I would be surrounded virtually by colleagues all day long and sometimes complete homework with them too. With all sports facilities closed, I began training calisthenics at the local calisthenics park every evening. In fact, I appreciate this bodyweight-based exercise so much that it has become a passion that I still pursue on almost a daily basis. This way, corona has actually made me an even more physically active person.

In June of 2020 I moved to my current apartment, situated only a couple of hundred meters from my previous housing. Here, I live in a slightly less busy environment right next door to some of my friends. I began the holidays after my 4th semester exams with a hiking trip to the Corvatsch region in the canton of Graubünden.

“Silersee” Photo by Peter Breuer

My camera accompanied me on all excursions so that I could try to capture the beauty of nature there. Shortly after these adventures on foot, of course I had to embark on yet another mountain biking trip to hone my riding skills. This time I traveled to the region around Arosa-Lenzerheide and had the time of my life.

Back to university business: I achieved a major milestone and goal of mine when I got accepted to a “focus project” right before the beginning of the fifth semester. The background: Mechanical engineering students at ETH are able to apply for becoming part of a new or existing project that they would spend the majority of their time on during the fifth and sixth semester. These projects range from developing the racing cars for the “formula student” league to building rocket engines for the student association for space. I was thrilled to become part of a new interdisciplinary project (which we called “dyana – dynamic animatronic”) hosted by ETH’s Robotics Systems Lab. We are a team of six mechanical engineers, four industrial designers, two electrical engineers and two system engineers from a total of four different universities across Switzerland, supported by numerous PhD supervisors, research assistants, coaches, professors and sponsorships from companies.

Our project aims at combining the expertise in robotics and animation by developing a mobile animatronic (lynx-sized quadrupedal robot) that can move dynamically, while focusing on fluid movements and an aesthetic design. A lot more can be read on our website (currently not in service, should be up again very soon). Working full-time on a project whilst having to cram in five courses besides that made my fifth semester the most stressful and time-consuming one so far. I’ve never worked longer hours. It was, however, also the most varied one: my team and I faced the task of organizing regular team meetings or information events, entering the previously unknown territory of robotics, as well as doing and reflecting on our research and development. In the project, I was part of the mechanical team and focused on developing the hip/shoulder and leg of the quadruped. Regarding the corona situation, the students involved in focus projects (thus including myself) were very fortunate as they were (and are still) allowed to work in their project offices. I wouldn’t have liked to imagine how strenuous it would have been with stricter rules… On a different note, I also taught third-semester students in a weekly exercise session for the control systems 1 course.

This brings me to the end of the update about my university life at ETH Zurich. I hope you enjoyed the read! I wish everyone a fantastic day and as always: stay healthy!

– Peter

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