Healthy buildings: air quality and airborne infection

Self repairing cities

People typically spend around 90% of their time in indoor environments, hence the air quality and thermal environment in buildings is an important determinant of human health, wellbeing and productivity. Our research focuses on understanding the relationships between building design, ventilation, human behaviour and environmental sources on the risk of exposure to airborne contaminants. We are interested in identifying management and engineering solutions to reduce risk while at the same time minimising building energy use.  We have particular interests in microbial contaminants, including engineering interventions to manage risk of airborne disease transmission.

Our research brings together a wide range of techniques including Computational Fluid Dynamics, ventilation models, controlled lab, chamber and pilot scale experiments, field data from real environments and risk modelling. We use these approaches to both understand the fundamental behaviour of airborne contaminants and to design, test and optimise solutions.

We have worked extensively on airborne infection risks in hospital environments and bioaerosol exposure risks at waste management sites. Our research is collaborative with a wide range of partners including architects, chemists, microbiologists, clinicians and engineers. This includes academic partners, the NHS, Public Health England, the Environment Agency, and a range of industry partners. We work closely with the Leeds Institute for Fluid Dynamics, and we co-lead a national network on Low Energy Ventilation supported by the UK Fluids Network. 

Recent projects

  • Excising Infection in the Surgical Environment [ExISE] 2017-2019, AHRC
    This project aims to understand the development of operating theatre design and ventilation strategies, and assess the evidence for this to influence the risk of infection. This is an interdisciplinary project in collaboration with the University of Cambridge (PI Prof Alan Short) and Kings College London. 
  • Influence of ventilation design on the prevalence of anti-microbial bacteria in homes 2017-2019, AHRC
    We aim to understand how contemporary housing design affects the indoor microbiome and the prevalence of AMR. We are applying occupant surveys, building audits, microbial sampling and environmental sampling to homes in the Glasgow area. The project is in collaboration with Glasgow School of Art (PI Prof Tim Sharpe) and Hairmyres Hospital, and was an outcome of the HEMAC network 
  • HECOIRA: Healthcare Environment Control, Optimisation and Infection Risk Assessment 2017-2021, EPSRC
    This EPSRC Healthcare Impact Partnership is in collaboration with two NHS trusts and two industry partners. We aim to develop and test novel computational based tools to assess, monitor and control real patient environments in hospitals for infection control, comort and well-being. We will develop and couple models of physical, environmental, microbial and human parameters together with environmental sensor data to build new tools to dynamically model hospital environments. 
  • Targeting airborne bacterial infection: Studies on patient- and laboratory-generated mycobacterium tuberculosis aerosols 2017-2019, MRC
  • We aim to characterise the CASS patient cough sampling approach to understand the sampling and survival of TB aerosol. We wish to understand whether the aerosol is related to sputum,  how  the survival and gene expression of Mtb changes with time and ambient conditions and the effectiveness of the sampling approach for capturing patient aerosols. The project is a collaboration with , Leicester University (PI Prof Mike Barer),  Public Health England and researchers in Pretoria.

PhD projects

We have opportunities for prospective prospective postgraduate researchers. Find out more.

Contact us

If you would like to discuss an area of research in more detail, please contact Professor Catherine Noakes or Dr Marco-Felipe King.