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.
Since the summer of 2020, Arsalan Heydarian, an assistant professor of engineering systems and environment at UVA, Farrokh Jazizadeh, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, and Linsey C. Marr, Charles P. Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech, have been overseeing indoor air quality experiments onsite at both UVA and Tech.
In May, Heydarian, systems engineering Ph.D. student Mahsa P. Varnosfaderani and Virginia Tech civil engineering Ph.D. student Namrata S. Panji conducted one of the project’s experiments in UVA’s Link Lab at Olsson Hall. Heydarian, Varnosfaderani and Panji evaluated different strategies to (1) monitor indoor air quality through a network of commercially available sensors and (2) inform the dynamic operation of HVAC systems and air cleaners to reduce the chance of exposure to harmful particles and viruses.
The UVA facilities building automation team, including Doug Livingston, Scott Martin and Paul Verselinovic, has been actively collaborating with the research team and providing support in testing different HVAC operations as well as implementing the findings of these experiments across other buildings on grounds in the near future.
Heydarian, a Link Lab member, also serves as lead investigator on the National Science Foundation grant, “The Living Link Lab: Infrastructure for Enhancing Occupant Experience and Building Operations” to promote sustainable, healthy buildings. Under the grant, a sensor network was installed throughout the Link Lab. The lab now serves as a real-world testbed for collaborative research with outside partners, in this case UVA facilities, to develop sensing and actuation systems that can understand and respond to building occupants’ behavior and needs.
For example, Heydarian and his Link Lab colleagues, Bradford Campbell and Nicola Bezzo, have been collaborating with other academic and corporate research partners, including UVA’s Center for Engineering in Medicine and Trane Technologies, to calibrate and test sensor systems for use in other UVA spaces, such as classrooms or the University hospital.