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MSc Eng student achieves victory for Denmark at the European indoor environment championship

A graduate engineering student from Aarhus University won the REHVA Student Competition 2015 in Latvia. Students from all over Europe competed for the prize for the best invention in the field of indoor environment technology.

2015.05.19 | Kim Harel

Stine Pedersen won this year’s European university competition in indoor environment technology. She built a small machine that registers indoor environment conditions for the first time, as well as providing feedback from people in the room. Her initial empirical study indicates that the way we experience indoor comfort is much more subjective than researchers previously thought. (Photo: Lars Kruse)

After a fierce national elimination challenge, Denmark sent 25-year-old Stine Pedersen from Aarhus University to the final in Riga in what corresponds to the European indoor environment championship. The competition kicks off once a year and is organised by REHVA (Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Associations) – the major European sector organisation.

Stine Pedersen won the competition with a new invention that can measure the indoor workplace environment in a completely new way.

She built a small machine that can record all indoor conditions that are significant for the body’s heat balance.

And temperature is one of the room features that has the greatest impact on our concentration and productivity skills during the course of a working day.

“It’s best for us when our heat production and heat loss are identical. Working with indoor environment design, there are lots of conditions to take into account in order to hit the right level. I’ve actually just designed a new instrument that makes it easier to rapidly identify the factors with the greatest influence on heat balance in a specific environment,” explains Stine Pedersen.

Indoor environment ALSO takes place in our heads
What is special about the machine is that it logs the physically measurable indoor environment conditions at a workplace at the same time as recording the well-being of the employees. This provides a level of detail that has not been seen before in such measurements, and new knowledge about the level of comfort for individuals or groups of people in the same room at work.

“Engineers are used to measuring the indoor environment in buildings based on some well-documented objective standards. I wanted to combine this with a systematic measurement of people’s subjective experience of the indoor environment,” says Stine Pedersen.

The machine monitors factors such as humidity, air temperature, CO2 level and inflow of light. At the same time, it poses a number of questions where the employees use simple push-buttons to describe their individual well-being.

Surprising pilot study
Stine Pedersen tested her machine in a pilot study with a total of ten participants at a workplace in Aarhus with an open office environment. She logged all the usual indoor environment data, supplemented by ongoing feedback from the trial participants every half hour for a fortnight.

Even though the pilot study has a limited empirical basis, it is the first of its kind to systematically interconnect physical indoor environment data with frequent subjective assessments of comfort in large databases. This could make it easier to regulate the indoor environment to match employee preferences as well as possible.

“The machine provides a far more detailed data set to work with. This means that we can statistically identify the most significant indoor environment factors for the comfort experienced, for example. In some office environments, this could be the air temperature, while it could be radiation from the sun in others. The point is that we’re able to regulate the indoor environment not only according to norms and standards, but also in response to the expectations and well-being of living people,” says Stine Pedersen.

The pilot study so far indicates that people’s expectations regarding the indoor environment are a crucial factor for the experience of comfort, and Stine Pedersen is thereby contributing with a completely new angle on the existing research.

“This suggests that the indoor environment is not just something we can measure with instruments, but that it’s also something that goes on in our heads,” she says.

Public / media, Department of Engineering