Interview with Panagiota Karava

Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at Purdue University, USA

Please tell us about the CyberSEES: Type 2: Human-centered systems for cyber-enabled sustainable buildings project you are currently working on. What does the project aim to achieve?

This research project is funded from the US National Science Foundation and aims to develop a new technological solution for self-tuned thermal and visual environments in buildings. The research includes advances in Bayesian classification and inference along with field studies of human-building interactions in office environments. The end-product of this work is customized building climate control that can achieve significant levels of increase in occupant satisfaction as well as energy use reduction due to higher effectiveness compared to standard systems – the energy is deployed where it is actually needed.

The CyberSEES project you are working on involves many people from different fields. What are some of the challenges, as well as positive aspects of working with researchers from different disciplines on this project?

This is right, our team is very interdisciplinary with researchers in architectural engineering, machine learning, computational science/engineering as well as human factors /psychological sciences. This has been a truly amazing experience and we have been able to make significant innovations by crossing our regular “research boundaries”. All team members are very open-minded and are willing to participate in frequent meetings so we can learn from each other. I think this is key to the success of the project. The only challenge is the significant time commitment, but it is totally worth it as the experience is very rewarding.

Do you plan to follow up on this project in the future, or do you have another project in mind?

I plan to work on this project for many years! We are still at the fundamental research phase. We have got very positive feedback and support from several leading firms in the building industry (which are members of Purdue’s Center for High Performance Buildings) and so we would like to continue this work until we see its implementation in real buildings.

Why did you decide to go into engineering?

I wanted to work on projects that are rewarding. I specifically chose building engineering because I realized that I can make a positive impact to people’s daily life.

What do you think the biggest challenges are for young women in engineering?

I think the biggest challenge is lack of awareness. Young women often don’t realize the true meaning of engineering because they don’t get enough exposure to it during their high school years and they choose to follow careers that may be considered to be more “traditional”.

What advice can you give to women considering a career in engineering?

Following a fulfilling career and work on projects that are innovative, interesting, and motivating is important. So I would suggest to young women to put some time and effort to seek information and advice on potential career options in order to discover their true passion and to be open to taking risks and do things that may appear to be different. I would also like to mention that being an engineer means that you have the opportunity to be an “impact maker”, and this really is a big deal!

You have won a number of awards over the last few years. Which award are you most proud of and can you briefly tell us about the work that you did that led to you being awarded that prize?

It is difficult to choose one but will mention the New Investigator Award from the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) - this is awarded annually to one tenure-track faculty member in all ASHRAE-related engineering, science and architecture disciplines. I am proud of this award because it recognizes research with significant scholarly contributions which also has practical relevance and significant engineering impact. This award for my smart buildings research was a great start and at the same time a significant milestone in my career.

What are engineers doing at the moment that you think hampers our path to a more sustainable future?

I actually believe that engineers create the path, e.g. efficient, safe and cost effective solutions, for a more sustainable future. The challenge is how to convince policy maker to take the necessary steps for their implementation.

Do you have a role model in engineering and why?

My undergraduate and graduate research advisors have been my role models and have made big impact in my work. Also, my colleagues at Purdue University set an example for pioneer research and development.

What is the best aspect of being an Engineer?

There are many great aspects of being an Engineer. I think the most important is that “what we make moves the world forward”, as we say at Purdue. The breadth and depth of engineering disciplines is often not understood completely.

Biography:

Dr. Panagiota Karava is an Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at Purdue University, USA and member of Purdue’s Center for High Performance Buildings. She joined the Lyles School of Civil Engineering in 2009 as a founding member of the Architectural Engineering Program. Since then, she has played a leading role in the establishment of the new program as well as the development of new research infrastructure. Her research interests are broadly related to smart buildings with focus on cyber-physical-human systems, innovative energy and comfort delivery, self-tuned indoor environments, and model predictive control. She received among others the 2014 Wansik Research Excellence Award at Purdue, the New Investigator Award from ASHRAE (2013) and the University Faculty Award from NSERC (2008). Dr. Karava is an ASHRAE and IBPSA member and serves as an Associate Editor of the Energy and Buildings Journal and editorial board member of the Journal of Building Performance Simulation.