Category Archives: Research

New paper published in Buildings journal!

ESBL has a new study out, which was just published in the journal Buildings. This interdisciplinary case-study examined the indoor environment and air quality of a newly-constructed, cross-laminated timber office building in Portland, OR.  Researchers from ESBL, BioBE, PSU, and OSU (including the Tallwood Design Institute) came together to study indoor air quality, building vibration, bacteria in dust, and the experience of building occupants.


Monitored Indoor Environmental Quality of a Mass Timber Office Building: A Case Study

Jason Stenson 1,2,*, Suzanne L. Ishaq 2, Aurélie Laguerre 3, Andrew Loia 1, Georgia MacCrone 2, Ignace Mugabo 4, Dale Northcutt 1,2, Mariapaola Riggio 5, Andre Barbosa 4, Elliott T. Gall 3 and Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg 1,2
1 Energy Studies in Buildings Laboratory, Department of Architecture, University of Oregon
2 Biology and the Built Environment Center, University of Oregon
3 Mechanical and Materials Engineering, Portland State University
School of Civil & Construction Engineering, Oregon State University
Department of Wood Science & Engineering, Oregon State University
Buildings 20199(6), 142; https://doi.org/10.3390/buildings9060142

Abstract

A broad range of building performance monitoring, sampling, and evaluation was conducted periodically after construction and spanning more than a year, for an occupied office building constructed using mass timber elements such as cross-laminated timber (CLT) floor and roof panels, as well as glue-laminated timber (GLT) beams and columns. This case study contributes research on monitoring indoor environmental quality in buildings, describing one of the few studies of an occupied mass timber building, and analyzing data in three areas that impact occupant experience: indoor air quality, bacterial community composition, and floor vibration. As a whole, the building was found to perform well. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including formaldehyde, were analyzed using multiple methods. Formaldehyde was found to be present in the building, though levels were below most recommended exposure limits. The source of formaldehyde was not able to be identified in this study. The richness of the bacterial community was affected by the height of sampling with respect to the floor, and richness and composition was affected by the location within the building. Floor vibration was observed to be below recognized human comfort thresholds.

Stop Motion Science: The Light Box Video

Written by Mira Zimmerman and Fiona Curliss

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.

Without further ado, enjoy our Lightbox Video:

Perspective on the Role of Light in the Indoor Microbiome

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 [1]. 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 [28]. The presence of microbial cells and cell components can even enhance the allergic reaction of individuals to pet allergens [29]. 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 [30].  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).

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).

Figure 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.

Figure 3

Figure 4

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.

To read our publication, click here

NPR’s coverage of our study is also out, check it out here.

Bibliography

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BioBE Receives New UO-OHSU Seed Funding Award

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” 

Executive Summary

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.

 

 

ESBL and TallWood Design Institute awarded grant for acoustics testing facility

We are excited to announce that ESBL, with TallWood Design Institute, were awarded a grant from Oregon Innovation Council (Oregon InC) to create a facility to test acoustics properties of mass timber products.

About the project:

The new testing facility will provide the information necessary to overcome one of the major barriers to the growth of mass timber: acoustics performance. Mass products are growing in popularity as an innovative building material, particularly in multifamily residential dwellings for which they are structurally well-suited. However, these products’ ability to reduce floor-to-ceiling noise transfer has not been tested. Locally sourced testing of mass timber materials would give building owners, contractors, building code officials, and design and engineering professionals the confidence needed to demonstrate that these products are cost-effective and meet performance requirements.

 

Currently, the only way to test acoustics performance is to ship samples to testing facilities on the East Coast. This drastically increases project costs and construction schedule. Constructing an acoustic testing facility in Oregon will allow the mass timber industry to become a hub for both the development and production of mass timber products for the US and internationally.

While mass timber is the driving force behind the proposal to acquire this facility, multiple other traded sectors and industries in Oregon and across the Northwest would benefit from the facility, including aviation, other buildings material manufacturers such as glazing and curtain walls, façade cladding, masonry, and straw bale.

For more information, see the Business Oregon press release.

HERC Recap: Daylight Exposure & Microbial Communities Indoors

The microbiome and its relevance to healthy environments was of critical interest at the Health Energy Research Consortium.  Ashkaan Fahimipour, presented BioBE‘s recent investigations in microbial communities and exposure to daylight.

Humans spend most of their time indoors, exposed to bacterial communities found in dust. Understanding what determines the structure of these communities may therefore have relevance for human health. Light exposure in particular is a critical building design consideration and is known to alter growth and mortality rates of many bacterial populations, but the effects of light on the structure of entire dust communities are unclear.

We performed a controlled microcosm experiment designed to parse the effects of filtered solar radiation on the structure of dust microbial communities.

We report that exposure to light per se has marked effects on community diversity, composition and viability, while variation in light dosage or particular wavelengths experienced are associated with nuanced changes in community structure. Our results suggest that architects and lighting professionals designing rooms with more or less access to daylight may play a role in shaping bacterial communities associated with indoor dust.

This post is part of a blog series sharing information covered at the Health Energy Research Consortium in Portland, OR May 4-5, 2017. 

International VELUX Award: Automated Blinds Study

Congratulations to Amir Nezamdoost (UO architecture PhD student) and research assistant Alen Mahic for winning the Regional Award for The Americas in the International VELUX Award for Students of Architecture competition, presented recently at the World Architecture Festival in Berlin.

The team’s research estimates an annual savings of 390,000 kBtu, or $7,800 using automated blind controls over manual controls in a high-rise building in Boise, Idaho. The advantage over the automated controls is that manual blinds tend to remain closed longer throughout the day than automated blinds, which retract to take advantage of natural daylight.

The non-energy benefits, or annual productivity savings, equate to $274,500 per year, Nezamdoost said.

“There are numerous additional benefits such as increased occupant comfort, health, and productivity. Savings can be significant—assuming an increase in productivity of employees due to improved indoor environmental quality from increased availability of daylight and views, decreased discomfort due to glare and direct sunlight, and decreased time spent to manually adjust blinds.”

Watch this video about the team’s research, which shows how the automated blinds maximize light and views in an office building to enhance productivity and save energy.

International VELUX Award: Automated Blinds Study from veluxusa on Vimeo.

Since first appearing in 2004, the International VELUX Award has grown into the largest global student award within architecture, with outreach to more than 350 schools of architecture in 60 countries and a collection of 4,000 projects submitted since the first award in 2004.

“The award has a special focus on architecture for health and well-being. We want to encourage students to take up the challenges faced by cities and societies, where daylight and architecture can foster change through better and healthier living environments,” said Per Arnold Andersen of the VELUX Group.

 

Courtesy A&AA Communications

Mhuireach Awarded A&AA Dissertation Fellowship 2017-2018

Congratulations to Gwynne Mhuireach for winning a Dissertation Fellowship from the School of Architecture & Allied Arts at the University of Oregon!  Her working dissertation title is: Toward a Mechanistic Understanding of Relationships Between Airborne Microbial Communities and Urban Vegetation: Implications for Urban Planning and Human Well-being.  Mhuireach holds an M.Architecture (2012) from the University of Oregon and a B.S. in Biology (Ecology and Evolution Track, 1999) form the University of Washington. She is presently a Graduate Research Fellow at the Energy Studies in Buildings Laboratory and BioBE Center at University of Oregon.  Her anticipated graduation is June 2018.

Recent publication: Urban greenness influences airborne bacterial community composition

Dissertation Abstract: Variation in exposure to environmental microbial communities has been implicated in the etiology of allergies, asthma and other immune-related disorders. In particular, exposure to a high diversity of microbes during early life, for example through living in highly vegetated environments like farms or forests, may have specific health benefits, including immune system development and stimulation. In the face of rapidly growing cities and potential reductions in urban green space, it is vital to clarify whether and how microbial community composition is related to vegetation. The purpose of my proposed research is to identify plausible but under-explored mechanisms through which urban vegetation may influence public health. Specifically, I am investigating how airborne microbial communities vary with the amount, structural diversity, and/or species composition of green space for 50 sites in Eugene, Oregon. My approach combines geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing data with passive air sampling and culture-independent microbial sequencing.

Committee members:

  • Dr. Bart Johnson, Professor of Landscape Architecture (Major Advisor & Committee Chair)
  • Dr. Jessica Green, Professor of Biology (Co-Advisor)
  • Roxi Thoren, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture (Core Member)
  • Dr. Deb Johnson-Shelton, Education/Health Researcher, Oregon Research Institute (Core Member)
  • G.Z. Brown, Professor of Architecture (Institutional Representative)