Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Planning, Design, and the Built Environment

Committee Chair/Advisor

Dr. Ehsan Mousavi

Committee Member

Dr. Joseph M. Burgett

Committee Member

Dr. Andrew R. Metcalf

Committee Member

Dr. Vincent M. Blouin


The Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), being one of the most significant exposures to human beings, encompasses the concepts of comfort and safety from unwanted contaminants. Whereas the thermal comfort is controlled through proper conditioning and distribution of ventilated air, controlling the airborne contaminants requires careful investigation of the flow characteristics. IAQ translates to different requirements, depending on the intended use of the indoor environment. In critical indoor spaces such as Operating Rooms and Cleanrooms, the principal focus of IAQ is to remove/contain/divert contaminants flowing with the airstream to maintain the required sterility, as contamination can lead to adverse patient/product outcomes.

The airborne contaminants, generally submicron-sized particles, are controlled by directional airflow through differential pressure, depending on whether the space needs to exfiltrate (e.g., Operating Room – positive pressure) or contain (e.g., Isolation Room – negative pressure) the airborne contaminants. The current design paradigm that determines such pressure differential assumes steady-state conditions. Theoretically, during the steady-state, the rate of flow velocity change is zero, resulting in a constant flow field in time, and the distribution of contaminants in the space can be modeled using ordinary differential equations. Therefore, the steady-state assumption must hold to explain the contamination dispersal. However, in practice, transient occupant interventions like a door opening and walking through the steady-state flow fields alter the flow characteristics.

In response, this dissertation examines how occupant-introduced transient events affect the steady-state flow. This study aims to quantify and identify patterns of the changes in the flow characteristics for different scenarios of realistic door openings and human walks under a range of ventilation rates through controlled experiments and numerical simulations. Through specifically designed experiments, the impacts of door operation and occupant walking were characterized and quantified based on different levels of supply flow rates from the ventilation system. The results of the experiments suggested that special considerations were required to control for the transient phenomena and the pressure differential. The walking and door opening experiments also found distinguishable changes in the flow characteristics under each separate interaction between the indoor environment and the occupant. It was interesting to note that even though the magnitude of the effects was different for different levels of initial condition and intervention types, the changes in the flow properties exhibited identical patterns that were possible to model and make predictions.

Thus, this dissertation considers the sporadic transient interventions from the occupants (e.g., - door opening and walking) as events and discusses an approximation method called ‘Event-Based Modeling’ (EBM) using the collected data through these experiments. Two-dimensional numerical models were developed to obtain additional data on the changes in airflow characteristics and were used to model and test the accuracy of EBM’s prediction capabilities. The results demonstrated that the predictions from EBM were accurate, and the computational efficiency is improved compared to the traditional numerical simulation approach. This method can eliminate parallel modeling of the same phenomena, providing alternatives to simulate complex and computationally intensive transient events repeatedly. As a potential application, the changes in flow velocities from human-environment interactions in a critical indoor environment like an operating room can be predicted using the EBM method. This way, the ventilation systems can be designed as occupant-centric and energy-efficient by considering the impacts of the transient events instead of only considering the steady-state events.

Author ORCID Identifier 0000-0003-2252-9370



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