Students, faculty gather at materials workshop to discuss how interior materials impact health

Madelyn Reiter

Participants clanked around with boards and wires, meticulously using the small materials to build their very own machine to alert them of dangerous pollutants in their own homes.

The School of Architecture’s Materials Lab invited University students, faculty and staff to attend its workshop which taught them how building materials can harm their health and provided them with helpful resources to detect the safety conditions of their environment.

Program coordinators invited architecture professor Richard Corsi and Gail Vittori, co-director of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, to the lab to lecture attendees on indoor air pollutants. For example, men’s body spray is a harmful pollutant often found in schools. Lecturers explained the different kinds of pollutants and encouraged students to be more aware of their environments and to take an active role in ensuring safe environmental conditions.

“The materials that we select often define our indoor environments, and they are also very consequential in terms of what happens to our more ambient environment, and so beginning to understand that there are really choices and ways to guide manufacturers in the industry more broadly toward making healthy material choices would be advantageous to public health,” Vittori said.

After the lecture, Zach Hollandsworth of the Institute for Materials Interpretation gave hands-on instruction on building a computer-operated indoor air quality monitor. The monitor alerts users when there are pollutants in the air. Using laptops and materials that were provided to them, attendees carefully followed his lead.

“They’re important because, although we focus a lot on what we eat, we don’t think anything about the places we spend our time in, and all building materials are potentially hazardous,” Hollandsworth said.

According to Mia Santana, senior program coordinator for the Materials Lab, the hands-on portion of the workshop was particularly beneficial to attendees because they were able to bring their completed monitors home to detect pollutants such as dust and chemicals.

Architecture freshman Liam Kristensen said he attended the event to get insight on architecture’s effect on the real world.

“I’m really interested in the integration of air systems in general, and I hope to get a better idea of more efficient ways … that are less hurtful to occupants,” Kristensen said.

The workshop is part of a series funded by the UT Green Fee, which uses tuition fees to fund sustainability projects, according to Jennifer Wong, director of the Materials Lab.