Building sustainability researcher joins architectural engineering

Mariah Chuprinski
July 11, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Melika Sharifironizi, an expert in sustainability and the environmental impact of buildings and building systems, joined Penn State’s Department of Architectural Engineering as assistant research professor on June 3.

“I’m helping architectural engineers assess the environmental impacts of buildings and how to design sustainable buildings, from the extraction and processing of natural resources to manufacturing, delivery and assembly, as well as operation and demolition of buildings,” Sharifironizi said.

In her new role, she will investigate the building industry’s role in shaping large-scale ecological issues like human health, climate change and global warming.

Sez Atamturktur, Harry and Arlene Schell Professor and head of the Department of Architectural Engineering, said Sharifironizi’s research is critical to the building industry.

“The building sector in urbanized economies now accounts for 40% of all primary energy expenditures, uses 70% of all electric energy generated, and creates a major fraction of both global warming gases and outdoor and indoor air pollutants that impact human health,” Atamturktur said.

Combating energy inefficiency in buildings, therefore, can reap major benefits.

“Higher-performance buildings can not only have a significant effect on reducing the negative impacts on the environment — they also can provide a healthier and more comfortable indoor environment for the building occupants,” Atamturktur said.

Sharifironizi also will study possibilities for recycling construction and demolition materials. About 30% of the total waste in U.S. landfills comes from those materials, Sharifironizi said.

“No industry uses more raw materials or creates more waste than the construction industry. There are tremendous opportunities in developing new approaches for improving the recyclability of building materials,” said Atamturktur.

In addition to her research efforts, Sharifironizi will assist in recruiting the best and brightest architectural engineering graduate students from around the world. In recruiting internationally, Sharifironizi will contribute to one of the department’s goals: to become a global hub of building information and innovation.

“You can guarantee they have different ideas, different perspectives and diverse experiences,” Sharifironizi said.

As part of her efforts in graduate recruitment, Sharifironizi will organize professional activities like workshops and networking activities to help graduate students get connected in the wider architectural engineering community. She also plans to counsel students on career opportunities.

“I spent some time working in an industry setting, so I can show them what it would be like to work in an industry after graduation as well as in academia,” she said.

In addition to recruitment efforts, Sharifironizi will spend a portion of her time on research development efforts that include establishing collaborative research groups within the department and across Penn State on the subject of ultra-high-performance buildings.

Finally, she will foster new and existing relationships with industry partners.

“This is a top-notch program here. I’m excited to work with the students and faculty. There are a lot of opportunities for collaboration in the area of sustainable infrastructure,” she said.

Sharifironizi earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in general engineering from Amirkabir University of Technology in Tehran, Iran.

She went on to earn her doctorate in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Notre Dame.

After earning her doctorate, Sharifironizi worked at Aqueous Solutions LLC in Champaign, Illinois, for three years as an environmental engineer, where she consulted businesses and colleges on best practices for sustainable environmental projects and for deposing waste materials.

Last Updated July 11, 2019