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Dr Elizabeth Cooper

Dr Elizabeth Cooper

Lecturer (Teaching) in Health, Wellbeing and Sustainable Buildings

Bartlett School Env, Energy & Resources

Faculty of the Built Environment

Joined UCL
1st Apr 2019

Research summary

My research focusses on the nexus of energy efficiency, human health, occupant behaviour, and integrated and smart technologies in the built environment. I explore ways in which these broad and complicated elements intersect through the study of the quality and control of the indoor environment; the air, surfaces and building systems. The study of our indoor environment has become ever more important as our changing climate impacts the ways in which we build, operate, and inhabit our buildings. The risks of our past, reflected in the design of our buildings, are no longer the reality of our future.

As most people spend so much of their time indoors, the contribution of indoor air contaminants, of both chemical and biological origin, to our total exposure is substantial. It is widely accepted that air pollution contributes significantly to the global burden of disease (the recent (2019) WHO report estimated indoor air pollution (specifically PM2.5) contributes to over 9 million premature deaths annually). Although the pollution differs in composition, extent and distribution, exposure is a serious concern in both the global North and South. It is, therefore, essential that we understand the risks associated with the pathways of exposure (e.g., airborne, dermal); different classes of pollutants (e.g., particulate matter, nitrogen oxides); the effect of behaviour (e.g., cooking, smoking); and the influence of different environments (e.g., transport, home, etc.).

Understanding risks is only a first step. Research into indoor environmental quality needs to be translated into changes in the ways in which architects and engineers approach design, and the way occupants interact with buildings and technology. In turn this demands interdisciplinary collaboration. One innovative aspect of my research is the use of a multi-domain approach. Most research in the built environment examines environmental influences on occupant perception and behaviour in isolation. A multi-domain approach, by contrast, examines the combined effects of environmental influences on occupant behaviour, and provides a more holistic and integrated approach to complicated problems. Studies remain limited despite recognition that the stimuli that influence occupants’ behaviours and perception are multi-factorial and varied (e.g., thermal, visual, indoor environmental quality (IEQ)). My research 1) examines the impact of design and behavioural interventions on indoor environmental quality, 2) seeks to understand occupants’ perception of indoor environmental quality, 3) explores how and why occupants use technologies to improve the IEQ in their homes, and 4) estimates the impact of the use of technologies, such as air purifiers and advanced building controls, on population health outcomes associated with airborne pollutants. The variables considered in each of these investigations included multiple physical (e.g., PM2.5, TVOCs, temperature, relative humidity), contextual (e.g., country, culture, climate) and personal (e.g., thermal comfort, IEQ preferences, perception of control) factors, which provides a more integrated and holistic analysis of building-occupant interactions. Therefore, the physical conditions, technologies, and human behaviour that impact energy use, comfort, and health were examined in an integrated way. This method provides new insights into occupants’ perceptions of indoor environments, that can lead to design and building operations that better predict and react to occupant behaviour to improve IEQ whilst not sacrificing energy efficiency, thermal or visual comfort. Additionally, it can be designed to simulate many different types of users (e.g., children, neuro-divergent, etc.).

Teaching summary

Dr Elizabeth Cooper teaches Health, Wellbeing and the Built Environment for the Health, Wellbeing and Sustainable Building MSc. She has also taught architecture design studios, Environmental Control Systems, Research Methods, the integration of technology in design, and given lectures on air quality in buildings and health. Elizabeth leads her classes in a collegial and collaborative manner, responding to the expressed desires of students to have respectful, responsive, approachable, communicative, and engaging instructors. She enjoys the creative exchange and the new perspectives found in the classroom. The aims to foster a culture in which play is rewarded, and effort, curiosity and compassion are highly valued.

Education

Doctorate, Environmental Design & Engineering |
Masters, Architecture |
Masters, Environmental Health |
Other qualification, Registered Architect | 2004

Biography

Dr Elizabeth Cooper first joined UCL in January 2019, and began her role as Lecturer (Teaching) and Programme Lead for the MSC in Health, Wellbeing and Sustainable Buildings in July 2022. Prior to joining UCL she was an Associate Professor of architecture and Director of the Integrated Design Lab at the University of Idaho in the US. Elizabeth obtained a Master's of Architecture and a Master's of Science in Environmental Health prior to her PhD in Environmental Design & Engineering.
Publications