Alan Wang, Ph.D. Student, Computer Engineering

People become engineers because they have a passion for creating knowledge and technologies that serve society. UVA Engineering’s "For Good" series shares their voices.

UVA Engineering, Alan Wang, graduate student, Link Lab, light

I'm trying to find a research interest and kind of passion in life that aligns with my own life goals and work views. The way I see it is, if you can help lift burdens from people around you, that is a positive. And there are so many people who have helped me in the past. So, what is a way to maximize this, to make people live happier, more productive and healthier lives? One way I’m answering that question is, I‘m designing and testing the “brain” of the future building, a space that can respond to the needs of the person who lives in it where the brain is a computer server that is tied to different kinds of sensors. Specifically, I want to quantify the ways that lighting affects people in a space.

UVA Engineering Graduate Student Alan Wang

I have always enjoyed staring at trees. Seeing how the leaves cast shadows on each other in the wind is like daydreaming. It allows me to cast aside all my worries for a moment. It makes me realize that light can have a profound impact on our moods and the way we interact with the world around us, and I want to develop systems where lighting can instinctively benefit our lives.

UVA Engineering, Alan Wang, graduate student, Link Lab, light

Lighting also has many other implications: It affects our productivity based on the task we do, as well as our health, influencing our circadian rhythm. After some architectural training, I just started noticing the quality of light everywhere. Lighting is used in retail spaces to change the way we buy things, in restaurants to change the way we eat, and in theaters to change the way we feel. If we are to improve the way we spend our lives indoors, why should we not start with lighting?

As the renowned Spanish architect, Alberto Campo Baeza, succinctly puts it: “Light is not something vague, diffused, which is taken for granted because it is always there. The sun does not rise every day in vain.”

UVA Engineering, Alan Wang, graduate student, Link Lab, light

Students, even faculty sometimes, in research labs often do not have direct control of their lighting. And people's eyes change as they age. If we can discover people's lighting preferences and their contexts, we would be able to change the lights to their liking. Right now, by default, we use a general prescribed lighting level. However, this could be fine-tuned based on the population the room is serving and the tasks they are engaged in. In hospitals, there are many photosensitive patients. As an example, we could determine the efficacy of our intervention through the reduction of their pain scores.

UVA Engineering Graduate Student Alan Wang

We're all humans here, and it doesn't matter how much money is involved or how much is at stake in terms of intellectual property; at the end of the day we're here to help each other and to lift each other.