Architectural engineering fellow looks back on vibrant academic career

Mariah Chuprinski
April 13, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State architectural engineering (AE) doctoral student Jay Mundinger brings color to his work, literally. 

The lighting designer and color scientist is a fellow in the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) program, sponsored by the United States Department of Education, whose goal is to transform the way buildings are designed, built and maintained, through doctoral education and knowledge creation in the delivery of ultra-high-performance buildings.

Mundinger researches spectral optimization for architectural lighting, where he studies the color and saturation of indoor environments. 

For his dissertation, Mundinger is studying the visual experience of fine art under low illumination. Light levels are restricted in museums because historic paintings are susceptible to gradual degradation driven by lighting, Mundinger explained. But paintings created before electric lighting was invented are designed to be viewed in the same way as many of them were painted: in broad daylight, and not at the low light levels common in museums, which causes colors to be perceived as less vibrant and rich.

A headshot of a man in vibrant coloring.

Jay Mundinger first became interested in architectural lighting through dance.

IMAGE: Jay Mundinger

“My research focuses on the utilization of lighting gamuts that, if used correctly, can artificially compensate for perceived lost color, restoring a lot of that visual experience you would have if you were viewing a painting in daylight,” he said. 

Mundinger collected his data by illuminating a reproduction of a Dutch baroque painting and a modern, chromatic painting created for the study by his father. Participants viewed the paintings under different light levels and gamuts to determine how to improve viewing conditions for the paintings while still preserving them.

“Though there is no perfect solution, my experiments showed that if lighting conditions are customized to each individual painting, you can improve the appearance of the colors while not putting the paint at risk of degradation,” he said. 

Light and dance 

After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of Illinois in 2010, Mundinger went to work as an environmental engineer in a lighting manufacturing facility. But it was dance that got him interested in lighting. 

“I started dancing as an undergraduate in 2006 and then started DJing for dance groups,” Mundinger said. “Then I added a cheap light from Lowes to my setup, and just started building from there. Ten thousand dollars and multiple control systems later, I began to take lighting seriously.”

Groups of people are seen from above in a purple-hued event space.

Jay Mundinger took students to community center 3 Dots for a practicum assignment where they implemented different lighting settings.

IMAGE: Jay Mundinger

He decided to hone his talents and make a career out of lighting design, which led him to graduate school at Penn State. He is now on track to graduate with his doctorate in architectural engineering this August.

Mundinger’s lighting design has earned the respect of his colleagues, friends, and especially the 3 Dots community in downtown State College, a venue that hosts artistic and innovative events and hosts community groups Centre Social Dance, where Mundinger is the artistic director, and Happy Valley Improv

Mundinger designed the lighting for 3 Dots, creating its now-characteristic colorful interior. Later, he got his students involved in the project through practicum design scenarios in a class he teaches, AE 311: Fundamentals of Electrical and Illumination Systems for Buildings. 

“For a hands-on project, I took my students to the venue and gave them design prompts with specific events to build a lighting setting for,” he said. “They used the scene controllers and occupancy sensors to build their designs, which they were then evaluated on.”

Mundinger’s teaching talents have had an impact on students in AE 311, according to Rick Mistrick, associate professor of architectural engineering.

“Jay's unique teaching style and ability to relate well to students has made AE 311 interactive and exciting,” Mistrick said.


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Last Updated April 16, 2020