GBRL Research

Research Areas:

Indoor surfaces and indoor environmental quality

A major focus of GBRL research is investigating the role played by indoor surfaces in impacting indoor environmental quality. Materials are important in indoor environments – indoor surface area to volume ratios are about 300 times greater than outdoor environments. This means that emissions from materials and heterogeneous chemistry plays a key role in the fate and transformation of indoor air pollutants. 

One major thrust is improving and developing new methods for characterizing indoor air and indoor surfaces. New mass spectrometery methods are applied to indoor air (see below) and we are developing approaches for characterizing physicochemical properties of new and aged indoor surfaces, building envelope materials, and air cleaning media. This includes characterizing surfaces for the presence of elemental composition,  surface functional group density, material porosities, pore size distributions, and macro-scale geometry. 

A few recent or ongoing projects: 

Building envelope materials, ozone, and indoor air quality

Mass accretion to indoor surfaces, impacts on indoor oxidation pathways

Application of time of flight mass spectrometry to the study of indoor and enclosed environments

Indoor environments are highly transient. Occupants engage in activities that may emit pollutants, HVAC systems cycle on and off, and outdoor air pollutnat levels are dynamic, to just name a few drivers of transience of indoor air pollutants. Investigating the dynamics of sources, sinks, and transformation of indoor air pollutants requires knowledge of the time dependence of air pollutant levels. The indoor air matrix is also complex - there are typically on the order of 100s to 1000s of volatile organic pollutants present in indoor air. To better understand the transience and complexity of indoor air pollutant transport and transformation, the GBRL employs, among other devices, a proton transfer reaction - time of flight - mass spectrometer. This technique allows rapid (~1 second or less) analaysis of a broad analytical window of gas-phase compounds that encompasses VVOCs, VOCs, and some SVOCs.  The GBRL is currently applying this technology to the study of indoor and urban air quality, as well as emergent areas in border security and defense. 

A few recent or ongoing projects: 

VOC fluxes from ecoroof substrate

Rapid detection of VOC emissions from humans

Resilience of building environmental systems under future climate scenarios and extreme events

Increased frequency of heat wave and wildfire events is predicted to be the “new normal” in the coming century. Such events challenge urban centers.  In 2017, deadly fires in much of the Western U.S. caused more days of “unhealthy” air in 2017 than in any year since 2007. Left unchecked, increased heat and wildfire events will contribute substantially to global suffering and death. One study projects between 160-2,200 excess deaths each year due to heat waves in Chicago alone. A study of landscape fires (wild and prescribed burning) attributed 340,000 global deaths annually. It is well-established that susceptible subpopulations or even entire regional populations should remain indoors to reduce exposure to particulate matter (PM) emitted from wildfires and high temperatures during heat waves that both degrade health and increase overall mortality. This established practice implies an essential, protective role for the built environment in mitigating the adverse health impacts of future heat and wildfire events. The long-term goal of the GBRL resilience research is to use building science to understand the potential for built environments to increase societal resilience by protecting populations during heat wave and wildfire events.

A few recent or ongoing projects: 

Coming soon!

Air quality impacts of ecoroofs

Along with colleagues from the PSU Honors College and Biology, the GBRL recently received funding to investigate the effects of ecoroofs (or green roofs) on indoor air quality.  In this work, research will focus on two fundamental questions: 1) How does the design of a building rooftop affect deposition, processing, and emissions of air pollutants? and 2) How might ecoroofs affect indoor air quality? This project will address these questions with a combination of extensive and innovative data collection that integrates ecology, biology, and building science approaches. Specific investigations will include a broad field survey of 48 roof surfaces in Portland, OR, an intensive air quality monitoring study at a commercial facility with a dual ecoroof/white membrane roof, and bench-scale laboratory investigations. Field measurements and laboratory parameterizations will be used in statistical models and material balances to explain relationships between the urban environment, ecoroofs, and indoor air quality.

Recent results: 

Paper on green roofs, white roofs, HVAC filters, and oxidation chemistry

Model of rooftop pollutant dynamics_Pradeep R ISS poster