Nieuws - 17 mei 2018

Puzzling out toxicology in Zurich

Carina Nieuwenweg

Who: Ally (Shuhuan) Zai, MSc student of Food Safety
What: Food safety internship
Where: ETH Zurich, a university of science and technology in Switzerland

‘When I started studying in Wageningen I was inspired by the lectures on food toxicology. The teachers were good at conveying what a fascinating field it is. For my Master’s thesis I have been working on the presence and impact of adulterants in so-called natural nutritional supplements based on herbs. Herbal extracts are generally seen as safe because they come from a natural source. But the supplements I studied contain a lot of adulterants, such as added magnesium. I have even written a PhD proposal about food toxicology.


Now I’ve been in Zurich for six months on an internship, trying to detect toxic substances in human cells using various analytical instruments. Less and less animal testing is being done to ascertain toxicity and food safety. But in order to be able to build on in-vitro analyses, we need to be sure that we can track down certain substances in cells. It is just like a puzzle which you have to solve by putting together as many pieces as you can.

I looked for an internship outside the Netherlands as I want to experience what it’s like to live and work in as many different countries as possible. Switzerland appealed to be because I had heard that the research facilities and environment were very good. Then my Wageningen internship supervisor recommended ETH Zurich.


Cycling uphill
After my time in the Netherlands I wasn’t used to mountains like the ones here anymore. Another big difference from New Zealand is the habit of cycling to work or school. It’s easy enough in the flat Netherlands, but to my surprise people in Zurich even cycle uphill to the university.

Two things I really like about Switzerland are the high-tech facilities and the better work-life balance. That seems to be much better in both the Netherlands and Switzerland. People stop work at about 5 pm. In New Zealand, where I come from, people work overtime a lot and it is normal to go home only around 7 or 8 pm.

To get a sense of the city I have already been to a lot of the museums in Zurich. My favourite was an exhibition about wolves, which included work by several kiwis. And I’ve also been to several chocolate shops to stock up. Chocolate is a Swiss speciality and I am a big chocolate fan. I’m already worried about the things I shall miss when I leave here.