Engineering Systems and Environment Briefs

Welcome to Engineering Systems and Environment Briefs, a place to find quick notes and posts from our department faculty, students, staff and alumni.


    Making it Safer to Gather Indoors

    July 01, 2021

    UVA and Virginia Tech engineering collaborators aim to optimize HVAC systems to eliminate viruses and harmful particles in the air

    In response to COVID-19, a team of University of Virginia and Virginia Tech researchers are working together to make indoor spaces healthier — a development sure to be welcomed by all those heading back to work, school and other indoor spaces after a year of stay-at-home orders. The team’s research evaluates strategies for reducing indoor transmission of harmful particles and viruses, such as the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, through new methods using sensors, air cleaners, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning — or HVAC — systems.


    ESE Team Wins Best Paper Award

    May 27, 2021

    A research team from the University of Virginia’s Department of Engineering Systems and Environment has won a 2021 Best Paper Award in the journal Water.

    The paper, “Forecasting Groundwater Table in a Flood-Prone Coastal City with Long Short-term Memory and Recurrent Neural Networks,” reports on research by Benjamin Bowes, an ESE Ph.D. student. Bowes co-authored the work with Jeffrey Sadler, a 2019 Ph.D. graduate; Mohamed Morsy, a 2017 Ph.D. graduate; Madhur Behl, assistant professor in computer science and engineering systems and environment; and Jonathan Goodall, professor in engineering systems and environment and associate director of UVA Engineering’s Link Lab. Behl is also affiliated with the Link Lab, an interdisciplinary center for cyber-physical systems research.

    Find the paper here.


    ESE’s Majid Shafiee-Jood Teams with Weldon Cooper Center and Batten Researchers on CoLabs Project

    May 27, 2021
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    The Environmental Resilience Institute at UVA’s Collaborative Research program, known as CoLabs, is funding a project by Majid Shafiee-Jood, an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment, and his partners at UVA’s Weldon Cooper Center and Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. Weldon Cooper economist and principal scientist Art Small and Jay Shimshack, associate professor of public policy and economics and the associate dean for academic affairs at Batten, are teaming with Shafiee-Jood to study the timing of hurricane evacuation decisions.

    The team will use information from different data sources such as anonymized cell phone data, historical hurricane forecasts, evacuation orders and demographics, to better understand individual evacuation decisions and collective evacuation patterns in coastal areas. Coastal areas face significant risk from more frequent extreme weather events associated with climate change attributed to human activity; the resilience of coastal communities in the face of these risks depends substantially on how quickly and smoothly communities can carry out large-scale evacuations under threat from major events, such as hurricanes. Insights from this project will help coastal communities devise more effective reactive and long-term plans in response to natural disasters.

    The project aims to understand individual and collective responses to natural disasters by connecting early warning information about hurricanes, emergency managers’ corresponding evacuation orders, and the public’s evacuation decisions. The project specifically highlights the role of emergency managers and their decision-making under uncertainty, and investigates the effectiveness of evacuation orders. Additionally, while most previous studies have focused on stated behaviors of individuals through post-hurricane surveys, this research focuses on real-time evacuation actions during a hurricane using newly available mobility datasets.

    While answering fundamental questions in the project, the team’s preliminary findings and datasets also will help to develop proposals for external funding sources such as the National Science Foundation’s Decision, Risk and Management Sciences program and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Social, Behavioral and Economics Science programs.


    Sigma Xi Inducts Engineering Systems and Environment Professor

    May 26, 2021

    Venkataraman Lakshmi, a professor in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment, has been inducted as a full member of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Honor Society. Sigma Xi is an international, multidisciplinary community of science and engineering professionals dedicated to research excellence, to promoting public engagement with science, and to fostering the next generation of researchers. Members join a distinguished community of researchers. Read Lakshmi’s bio here.


    Civil Engineering Students Design Footbridge to Connect Bolivian Villagers to Essential Services

    April 19, 2021

    Even during a worldwide pandemic, technology makes it possible for four University of Virginia Engineering students to design a footbridge in a Bolivian village — thousands of miles away from Charlottesville. When complete, the footbridge will allow residents of Guayabitos year-round safe passage across a river that floods frequently, cutting off access to services such as health care and schools.

    The bridge, a partnership with the nonprofit group Engineers in Action, is the students’ fourth-year capstone project. The team of civil engineering majors includes Dallas Barnes (infrastructure focus) of Radford, Virginia; John McClorey (structural and materials engineering focus) of Vienna, Virginia; Marlene McGraw (environmental and water resources focus) of Fredericksburg, Virginia; and Robert Peacock III (infrastructure focus) of Woodbridge, Virginia. Their engineering systems and environment faculty advisor is Jose Gomez.

    A Bridge for the People of Guayabitos

    By connecting people to vital services, these students are changing their lives.

    Through Engineers in Action’s Bridge Program, the students work both individually and collaboratively on tasks ranging from fundraising to estimating construction costs to making AutoCAD bridge designs and cross-checking their calculations. As they do the work, they are also taking Engineers in Action online courses on subjects related to the tasks. In addition to weekly team meetings on Zoom, the students hold regular review calls with Gomez, Engineers in Action site managers and other personnel, and industry mentors — including UVA Engineering alumni — from Thornton Tomasetti, who are supporting the project.

    By semester’s end, Gomez said, the students will deliver a set of plans with supporting calculations for the suspended footbridge to be built. Construction is estimated to be completed at the end of summer 2021. He has been impressed with the students’ passion for seeing the bridge built despite not being able to travel to Guayabitos in person, which would have been a goal if not for the pandemic.

    “They saw an opportunity to make a difference, and they’re going after it,” Gomez said.


    ESE Department Chair Brian Smith Receives 3Cavaliers 2.0 Funding for Interdisciplinary Project

    April 14, 2021

    Professor Brian L. Smith, P.E., chair of the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment, and his collaborators in the Department of Environmental Sciences and the School of Architecture are among the interdisciplinary teams to win seed funding in the second round of UVA’s 3Cavaliers program.

    Smith, environmental sciences professor Patricia Wiberg and assistant professor of landscape architecture Michael Luegering sought the funding to build a “caster” system for UVA’s field research stations and surrounding regions to lower cost and raise consistency in field research data and instrumentation.

    The system will improve spatial data collection for more accurate location data using GPS, and provide Smith’s introductory civil engineering students access to state-of-the-art survey technology to support field data collection for design projects.

    Read more about the project here.


    What’s your IEQ?

    March 16, 2021

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    Arsalan Heydarian, left, and Laura Barnes

    Find out how UVA engineers and clinicians are using ‘Indoor Environmental Quality’ sensors to try to improve patients’ sleep and recovery

    Arsalan Heydarian and Laura Barnes, an assistant professor and an associate professor in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment at the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering, Dr. Gabrielle Marzani, an associate professor of psychiatric medicine at UVA’s School of Medicine, and Meghan Mattos, R.N. and assistant professor at UVA’s School of Nursing in the Department of Acute and Specialty Care, are all collaborating on a research project that investigates the use of indoor environmental quality (IEQ) sensors to measure things like light, temperature, noise and air quality to gain information on the patient experience in hospital rooms. Their goal is to use this data to improve patients’ sleep quality and recovery outcomes.

    “The sensing and environmental monitoring approach is most exciting because this type of monitoring can contextualize the patient and nursing experiences. Collecting longitudinal data of environmental conditions and then connecting it to patient-specific preferences, behaviors, needs and sleep quality is very new research — there are not that many studies in this area. The longitudinal data that we are collecting is very valuable to researchers, room and lighting designers, clinicians and patients,” said Heydarian.

    Funded by a seed grant from the UVA Center for Engineering in Medicine, Heydarian and Barnes, along with their Ph.D. students, Alan Wang, computer engineering, and Navreet Kaur, systems engineering, launched the project last fall by installing sensors in five designated rooms in the 3 East (3E) wing at UVA University Hospital. There were no patients in the rooms, so the sensors were able to collect baseline data of the changes in indoor environmental conditions.

    Before launching this project, Heydarian had developed foundational research using different IEQ sensors and actuators, which make up a cyber-physical system, at the UVA Engineering Link Lab. One of the Link Lab’s research focus areas is smart and connected care. His work was supported by a National Science Foundation grant.

    At the hospital, volunteer patients are now part of the study. They wear a smartwatch device to gather physiological, movement and environmental data that will be sent to researchers wirelessly. The team has also started collecting more granular information about the changes in indoor environmental conditions. All of these data types will be analyzed to better understand the different factors that may impact sleep quality among different patients.

    In addition to quantitative data, team members Lisa Letzkus, R.N., P.N.P., from UVA Health and Cynthia Southard, D.N.P., R.N., from the UVA School of Nursing, along with Mattos and Marzani, conducted a series of interviews with nurses and clinicians in 3E to learn more about the general and specific practices for patient care, environmental conditions across different rooms and other insightful information on patient sleep and comfort. 

    As an outcome of this multidisciplinary collaboration, the team envisions introducing computer models that can be used to predict patients’ comfort in hospitals, and also provide feedback to clinicians on how specific combinations of conditions and practices can enhance patient care and clinical outcomes.


    Paper in Remote Sensing Assesses Downstream Impacts from Ethiopia’s Contentious Dam

    February 22, 2021

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    Engineering systems and environment Ph.D. student Prakrut Kansara and his advisor, Professor Venkat Lakshmi, have published a paper in the journal Remote Sensing assessing the impact of the new Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Ethiopia finished construction on the dam, built on the Blue Nile, in July 2020. The Blue Nile flows into the Nile River in Sudan, providing much of the Nile’s water volume, before entering Egypt.

    The dam’s reservoir is filling rapidly, raising fears and geopolitical tensions over water shortages downstream in Egypt and Sudan, which rely on the Nile River for nearly all of their fresh water and agricultural irrigation systems. Kansara’s research team is using remote sensing data to monitor the reservoir. The paper discusses their observations and the potential flood and drought implications for Egypt and Sudan.


    IEEE Intelligent Transportation Systems Society Recognizes ESE Professor’s Research

    January 13, 2021
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    B. Brian Park, a professor in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment, has received the 2014 George N. Saridis Best Transactions Paper Award for Outstanding Research for a paper in IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems. Park co-authored the work with former Ph.D. student Joyoung Lee, now an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Awards for years 2014-2017 were announced in the journal’s December 2020 issue.

    Park and Lee’s paper, “Development and evaluation of a cooperative vehicle intersection control algorithm under the connected vehicles environment,” was published in the IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 81–90, Mar. 2012.

    In 2015, the Board of Governors of IEEE Intelligent Transportation Systems Society approved a proposal to name the Best Paper Award in IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems as the George N. Saridis Best Transactions Paper Award. According to the announcement, 2014-2017 winners were named “after nearly five years of preparation and planning, and almost one year of hard and concentrated effort by the Award Committee.”

    Read the full announcement here.

    IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems is a journal of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and a premier publication for basic and applied research to expand knowledge on transportation. It focuses on the design, analysis and control of information technology as it is applied to transportation systems.

    Park also is an affiliated faculty member of UVA Engineering’s Link Lab, an interdisciplinary center for cyber-physical research, and director of the Traffic Operations Laboratory.


    Defining Donor Characteristics for Pediatric Heart Transplants

    January 13, 2021

    Michael D. Porter, an associate professor in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment, and his collaborator at UVA Children’s Hospital Heart Center, associate professor and a pediatric cardiologist Michael McCulloch, have received one of five pilot funding grants from the Integrated Translational Health Research Institute of Virginia.

    Their project aims to reduce the number of deaths among pediatric patients who die while on the waiting list for heart transplants, the standard of care for pediatric patients with end-stage heart failure or inoperable congenital defects, according to UVA Today. Porter and McCulloch will analyze donor echocardiographic data to identify which donor characteristics contribute to positive heart transplant recipient outcomes. The goal is to increase the odds of successful pediatric heart transplants.

    The Integrated Translational Health Research Institute of Virginia, known as iTHRIV, is a National Institutes of Health-funded Clinical and Translational Research Award hub. The grants provide support for early-phase research projects to help accelerate discovery or innovations in the researchers’ areas of study. Read more here.

    Porter has a joint appointment in UVA’s School of Data Science.