Director Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg’s interview with Retrofit for Metropolis magazine is published! He is one of a series of experts sharing their insight on the importance of daylighting for human health and comfort.
At BioBE, we strive to produce scientific research that is clear and understandable to any audience, not only for interdisciplinary collaboration, but also for scientific education. Those unfamiliar with the langauge and traditional methods of science often get lost in the complexities of scientific publications, and as a result do not delve into the inspirational and astonishing discoveries that the science community offers. This winter, as our Light Box Study concluded, we decided to create a media project that would explain the purpose, methods, and conclusions of our experiment in a way that would be more accessible for everyone.
The student team that created this video included architecture undergraduate Delaney Hetrick from ESBL and biology undergraduate researchers Fiona Curliss, Savanna Lloyd, and Sam Rosenburg from BioBE. Our student team was directed by Sue Ishaq and Jeff Kline, who sketched out the original video plot. Sue is a microbiologist and is managing the BioBE undergraduate researchers. She wanted students to learn how to communicate the findings and methods of scientific research to a general audience and to showcase the creative ingenuity that produced the lightboxes. Jeff, an architect at ESBL and one of the authors of the Lightbox publication, encouraged students to design a “visual conversation” for an interdisciplinary audience. Jeff and Mira Zimmerman worked on the more technical aspects of sound and picture quality. Willem Griffiths from BioBE helped Sue with the video voice-over. This project is a testement to the partnership between BioBE and ESBL and embodies our collective mission for interdisciplinary collaboration between the artistic and scientific communities.
Willem Griffith & Sue Ishaq working on the voiceover
As a team, biology and architecture students worked together learning to communicate the scientific and design aspects of the Lightbox project. They decided to create a video because of the medium’s accessibility and clarity. The video format also provided a chronological framework for approaching scientific concepts. In the process, students learned new skills related to video production, constructing and lighting sets, and editing stop motion video. Delaney said she “learned about the effort it takes to make a stop-motion film as well as how to look at the built environment from a new perspective.”
Students had some difficulty deciding the best way to explain the passage of time while the dust was in the light boxes and how this affected the composition of the dust. After talking through several ideas, they decided that the dust bunnies should change color to show partial bacterial death. They also came up with the idea of representing the passage of time with a day/night cycle shown by the moon and sun. Fiona told us that “projects like this video can be challenging because as a scientist there is a lot of background information you have that you forget other people don’t know, but that’s what made feedback from the team so valuable. While it can be discouraging to rework the concept and storyboard several times, ultimately taking their advice helped us make a better video and helped to develop my science communication skills.”
We hope to continue projects like this that allow everyone to engage with our research.
Written by Mark Fretz, Sue Ishaq, and Mira Zimmerman
Light is as necessary to the perfect growth and nutrition of the human frame as are air and food; and, whenever it is deficient, health fails, and disease appears… Artificial is but a very bad substitute for natural light… For health, we cannot have too much light, and, consequently, too many or too large window – The Lancet, 1845
In 1845, the Lancet medical journal published a scathing editorial regarding the 100-year old Glass Tax in Britain . The shift towards fewer and smaller windows, to which the glass tax contributed, was having noticeable health effects for those spending more and more time indoors due to industrialization. Not long after, researchers began studying the bactericidal effects of sunlight [2–4]; quickly realizing the importance of the capacity for sunlight to control pathogenic bacteria, particularly in health care facilities [5, 6]. Since 1877, a large body of research has been conducted on the effect of sunlight [7, 8], ultraviolet light [9–13], and other wavelengths [14–17] on mono-cultured bacterial survival and activity. Human physiology and health fields have explored the effect of sunlight on skin [18, 19], and architects use daylight as a design element to shape space as well as positively impact comfort, energy use and experience of the space [20, 21].
Even with this history of light-based studies, there has been, to our knowledge, no research conducted on the effect of light on the indoor microbial community. The microbial community found indoors is primarily sourced by outdoor air and microbial occupants [22–24]. Many infectious organisms persist indoors for months [25–27], potentially creating a reservoir that may be spread via direct or indirect contact . The presence of microbial cells and cell components can even enhance the allergic reaction of individuals to pet allergens . The building itself, including the materials found indoors and how spaces are used, can determine whether microorganisms survive or perish, remain or are carried away, and whether our methods of cleaning for microbial control is effective . The inclusion of windows, the use of different light filters on glass, shading strategies, and outdoor weather conditions can impact the amount and spectra of light which finds its way indoors, and thus how much daylight the indoor microbial community is exposed to (Figure 1).
In the wake of these uncertainties about the indoor effects of light on bacteria, BioBE conducted two pilot studies, one with Pseudomonas aeruginosa colonies and the other with house dust. First, we created “microcosms”, scale structures that would mimic the window size and daylight exposure of a typic office, while maintaining a typical temperature and humidity that one would find in an office setting. We then placed Pseudomonas aeruginosa (“Pseudo”) bacterial cultures on agar plates inside these contained “microcosms” for a day of total darkness, or natural circadian rhythms of visible light or UV only. Fifteen plates were placed on a gridded pattern in each microcosm to discern spatial patterns of daylight, illumination levels and bacterial survival relevant to architectural space. After a day of treatment, Pseudo colonies that received either light treatment had fewer and smaller colonies of growth than the Pseudo that remained in the dark, and survival was inversely proportionate to how much visible or UV light the Pseudo culture plates were exposed to (Fig. 2).
For our second study, we used homogenized house dust to conduct a very similar process, but for 90 days. The findings remained consistent, with the amount of light inversely proportional to bacterial growth (Fig. 3). Moreover, the dust that received a light treatment contained more bacteria which were “outdoor-associated” than the dust in the dark, which contained more human-associated bacteria (Fig. 4). This study has been accepted for publication, and is available online from Microbiome.
While our studies were only preliminary, it opens the doors for more research into the effects of light on the indoor microbiome. There are basic questions which remain to be answered: how quickly does different lighting affect microbial community structure? Is microbial diversity uniformly reduced or do specific taxa survive and thrive? Will inactivated (but surviving) microorganisms grow back at night or when artificial lights are off? Further research into this practically untouched body of study may provide key insight into building design, lighting, and into the improvement of human health.
BioBE has received funding for a new project as part of the new University of Oregon – Oregon Health Sciences University (UO-OHSU) Collaborative Seed Grant Program! BioBE’s Dr. Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, and Dr. Bob Martindale, Professor of Surgery, Chief of Gastrointestinal and General Surgery, and Medical Director of the Hospital Nutritional Service at OHSU, will be leading the project, along with Dr. Brendan Bohannan, Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology at the UO Institute of Ecology and Evolution, and BioBE’s Drs. Ashkaan Fahimipour and Sue Ishaq.
These grants are designed to foster high-impact pilot research between the two universities and to spark long-term collaborations. The full list of award recipients can be found here.
The project is set to begin in July; “Predicting Healthcare-Associated Clostridioides difficile Infection Probabilities in Inpatient Units”
Approximately 10% of patients will be accidentally harmed during inpatient medical care due to healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). These infections prolong patient illness, cause death, and financially burden hospitals and society; predicting when and why HAIs will occur is a key goal for fundamental and applied healthcare science. We aim to gather key data to pilot the development of new statistical and machine learning models, which map patients’ probabilities of acquiring HAIs onto the spatial distributions of living microorganisms from hospital surfaces, using C. difficile infection rates in inpatient units at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) as a model system. Our models will leverage information about in situ distributions of viable indoor microbes across patient rooms, and assembled genomes of C. difficile isolates from hospital surfaces, to probe the hypothesis that the built environment contributes to patient HAIs by inadvertently providing reservoirs of microbial pathogens with particular functional characteristics. Results of this pilot study will provide the empirical foundation for larger-scale future experiments, that will contribute to the refinement of predictive statistical models through the study of more hospital buildings, and investigations of alternate fomites and microbial reservoirs including physicians’ and nursing staff’s clothing, medical equipment, computer keyboards, and personal phones. A coherent understanding of the most salient environmental sources of HAIs could improve the placement of patients, assist in monitoring vectors of concern for infection control, and ultimately guide building design and operation.
My name is Mira Zimmerman, and I am the new BioBE/ESBL blogger and web designer! I will be helping with social media and BioBE/ESBL website management.
I am currently an undergrad at the University of Oregon, working towards a Humanities major with minors in Computer Science, Computer Tech, and Multimedia. I have a million different interests, everything from environmental philosophy to surrealist art! I love to hike and I spend a lot of time outdoors, appreciating the beauty of Oregon.
I am very excited to be joining BioBE and ESBL and to have the chance to incorporate myself in the intersections between science and design.
Architectural Lighting Magazine has published an article about the influences of new technology on lighting capability and building design. ESBL’s Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg talks about light automation alongside a number of other daylighting design experts.