I worked at the Institute for Virology and Immunoprophylaxis in Mittelhäusern, near Bern. This laboratory is maintained and funded by the Swiss government, and is a high-containment laboratory. The laboratory serves as a facility for diagnosis, surveillance, control, and vaccine development for epizootic diseases including foot and mouth disease, avian influenza, and classical swine fever.
The project I worked on involved development of a working avian influenza vaccine for use in poultry. The project was very successful and the vaccines I developed are currently being tested in chickens. As a combined degree PhD/DVM student in the VSTP program, I will use the molecular biology and virology techniques I learned in Switzerland to augment my own PhD work. I will be completing a PhD in comparative pathology developing a vaccine for dengue virus.
The actual town of Mittelhäusern is made up of 2 main streets. It has a population of about 900. Historically, it was a stop for the post to trade horses at on their way from Bern to Freiburg. At the start of the summer, there were 3 businesses on the main street-a small convenience store, a cheese shop, and a restaurant. Unfortunately the cheese shop closed down during the summer. The nearest city to Mittelhäusern is Köniz. One of the girls working at the lab with me boards her horse in the hills just south of here, and we went hiking up to the "Gurten" with her horse over the summer. The Gurten is a park at the top of the mountain. There is a lookout tower you can climb, and you can see all the way to Bern from the top-the view is absolutely breathtaking.
I took one vacation during the summer where I had time to go sightseeing in Switzerland. I was able to visit the Alps near Interlaken in the central German-speaking region. I also visited Luzern, in the northeastern German region, and Lugano in the southern Italian speaking region. I found it incredible how a country with such a unique, diverse culture could be so united. Even though the German-speaking people of Luzern are near the German border, they are fiercely Swiss and are very clear that they are not a part of German culture. The same is true of the Italian-speaking Swiss in the Ticino region. I was astounded by how well people in Switzerland spoke English, both inside and outside of the lab. I really enjoyed my summer and look forward to returning in the future.