Entry for:2019 Queensland Women in STEM Prize
1. Project summary (maximum 150 words)
My research profile lies in the architectural science and indoor environmental engineering fields, with a primary focus on thermal comfort, cognitive performance and productivity in learning and office environments, post occupancy evaluation and workspace strategy & design. I have accumulated rich experience in laboratory, field and simulation studies during my time at the University of Sydney’s School of Architecture, Design and Planning as a PhD candidate and Research Associate, and now as a full-time lecturer in architectural science in Griffith School of Engineering and the Built Environment. My research goal is to create a healthy, productive and sustainable indoor environment. Since people typically spend 90% of their time indoors, it is crucial to investigate how various indoor environmental conditions affect occupants' physical health, mental performance and social well-being. Meanwhile we need to make sure that this comfort and productivity is not achieved at the great expense of energy.
2. How does your project benefit Queensland? (maximum 500 words)
My researches have significant practical implications in how the commercial buildings should regulate and control the indoor thermal environment in order to create a healthy, productive and sustainable indoor environment for building occupants.
My PhD project investigated the effect of an air-conditioning control algorithm in demand response strategy on university students’ thermal comfort and cognitive performance in lecture theatres. When the air-conditioners are cycled on and off to cope with the peak demand in the electricity network, they will induce temperature fluctuations in the indoor environment. How this fluctuation will affect university students’ thermal comfort and learning performance is the fundamental research question. My research results have challenged the current ASHRAE 55-2017 standard (an internationally recognized thermal comfort standard) for being overly conservative in defining the limits of temperature cycles, ramps and drifts. The results also debunked the prevailing belief that a single optimum temperature leads to a maximum cognitive performance. The findings lend support to demand response strategies to reduce peak electricity demands and will certainly benefit tropical Queensland where heatwave events are becoming increasingly common.
My recent researches focus on the effect of indoor temperatures on cognitive performance and office productivity. Currently, the accepted wisdom in the building sectors regarding the effect of thermal environment on human performance and productivity fits the inverted-U model, meaning that there is only a single optimum indoor temperature leading to best performance of occupants. The Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) industry is using the inverted–U relationship to justify the prescription of a narrow range of indoor temperatures at enormous expense of HVAC equipment, building operational energy and most importantly, greenhouse gas emissions. It is all couched in terms of “safeguarding” optimum work performance and productivity. For example, Australian office buildings typically have a cooling and heating setpoint of 22 ± 1 °C embedded in their lease agreements and the justification is to optimize human resource productivity for tenants. In our 2019 Applied Energy paper Effects of moderate thermal environments on cognitive performance: A multidisciplinary review, we have critically reviewed nearly 300 scientific evidences from multiple research disciplines—built environment, psychology, physiology, ergonomics, neuroscience, sports science, medical science, learning and instructional design, and human-technology interaction—on the cognitive performance research theme. The weight of research evidence reviewed does not favour the inverted-U function, but the extended-U relationship instead, i.e. human performance remains relatively stable across a broad range of acceptable temperatures, but it rapidly deteriorates at the boundaries of thermal acceptability.
This research finding bears significant impacts on building energy use and greenhouse gas emissions not only for Queensland, but also all over the world. Contrary to the inverted-U function that has incurred horrendous waste of energy, the extended-U relationship has huge potentials in building energy conservation, since it permits the heating and cooling setpoint deadband to expand across the full width of the thermal comfort zone, or even slightly further during emergencies such as peak demand events on the electricity grid.
3. What STEM promotion/engagement activities do you do/have you done? (maximum 500 words)
I publish in the top-ranking peer-reviewed journals in the architectural science and engineering field, such as Applied Energy (Impact Factor 7.9), Building and Environment (IF 4.539), Energy and Buildings (IF 4.457), Indoor Air: International Journal of Indoor Environment and Health (IF 4.396) and so on. To date, I have published (and submitted) 13 peer-reviewed journal articles and 8 international conference papers. Although the majority of them were published in 2016 and later, they have already attracted a total of 85 citations on Google Scholar, and nearly 4,200 reads on Research Gate. My research has attracted or helped attract over AUD 520,000 in research funding since 2016, the most significant of which is the 2019 Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery project Designing offices well. Since 2015, I have been a regular reviewer for the following international journals in the built environment field and have reviewed 16 journal submissions: Energy and Buildings, Building and Environment, Indoor Air: International Journal of Indoor Environment and Health, Building Research & Information, Journal of Thermal Biology and Indoor Built Environment.
My goal as a lecturer is to equip architectural students with technical skills and logical thinking abilities needed to create a healthy, productive and sustainable built environment. In my co-convened course Advance Integrated Technologies in 2018, I taught master students to employ solid quantitative methods in their design to achieve energy efficiency and thermal comfort. This course achieved Course evaluation score of 4.4 out of 5.0.
I have been active in promoting my research findings among industry and the general public. We have published an article based on our 2017 research paper The effects of higher temperature setpoints during summer on office workers' cognitive load and thermal comfort in the Conversation in April 2018 and have received wide attention and discussion. This article attracted 40,814 reads in April alone and was ranked the most read article from Griffith University during that month. I was also ranked the most-read author in the same month. The article can be found at https://theconversation.com/chill-out-a-slightly-warmer-office-wont-make-it-too-hot-to-think-93789.
The newsletter based on my 2019 literature review paper in Applied Energy is due to be published in Griffith News and the Conversation soon.
I have also given my expert opinion in regard to the classroom temperature issues in SEQ schools for the Sydney Morning Herald: https://www.smh.com.au/national/queensland/seq-schools-must-switch-on-to-airconditioning-for-summer-say-parents-20180807-p4zw2d.html.
Our industry-funded project collaborated with University of Sydney focusing on Activity-based Working has received a wide attention from the industry and been reported by several media outlets in Australia such as:
Australia's first-ever pilot study on activity-based working launched by USyd. http://www.architectureanddesign.com.au/news/new-australian-study-into-activity-based-working.
In March 2017, I was invited to do a phone interview for the Fifth Estate—an Australian sustainable property news website for their new ebook regarding healthy offices. I talked about the significant influences of indoor environmental quality on workspaces and research findings in the BOSSA project. The ebook can be found at:
Healthy Offices: Why Wellness is the New Green. The fifth Estate. http://www.thefifthestate.com.au/innovation/commercial/healthy-offices-why-wellness-is-the-new-green/94227.