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Dolaana Khovalyg joins the EPFL's team at the smart living lab

Dolaana Khovalyg is specialized in energy and building systems engineering. ©2018 EPFL/Alain Herzog

Dolaana Khovalyg is specialized in energy and building systems engineering. ©2018 EPFL/Alain Herzog

Dolaana Khovalyg was appointed Tenure Track Assistant Professor of Energy and Building Systems Engineering at the School for Architecture, Civil, and Environmental Engineering (ENAC) at EPFL and Head of the Thermal Engineering for the Built Environment Laboratory (TEBEL) at the smart living lab in Fribourg as of 01.09.2018.

You just arrived at the smart living lab, which includes EPFL, HEIA-FR and UNIFR. What are your first impressions about this interdisciplinary research center?
The smart living lab is certainly a unique interdisciplinary platform that brings together researchers focusing on various aspects of the built environment aiming to collectively address the challenges of future buildings. Such environment allows not only to develop new synergies but also promotes debates between researchers from different, sometimes not obviously related, fields (e.g. between construction lawyers and engineers). In my opinion, this creates a great opportunity for us to reflect, to have a different perspective on our own research and to strive for strong outcomes. My overall impression is that the smart living lab is an exciting place to work and to innovate because of its diversity.

Can you tell us more about your career in academia?
I obtained my BS and MS degree in thermophysics from the Moscow Power Engineering Institute. After working in the RAC (refrigeration & air-conditioning) industry for 5 years, I moved to the US after being granted a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue a PhD degree. I obtained my PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) where I performed research at the advanced Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Center (ACRC) with focus on environmentally friendly (compact, lightweight, less refrigerant use, and thermodynamically efficient) heat exchangers for air-conditioning. While being a PhD candidate, I participated at the Global Young Scientists Summit in Singapore and had an entry in the “Sustainable and Livable Cities” challenge. My proposal on “Net-Zero Energy Air-Conditioning and Dehumidification” was one of the eight finalists worldwide, and this sparked my interest in sustainable and livable indoor environment which has a significant importance nowadays. In order to familiarize myself with thermal comfort and occupants behavior, I pursued a postdoctoral appointment at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), specifically at the International Center for Indoor Environment and Energy (ICIEE). And finally, all my academic milestones led me to my current position at EPFL.

What are you most excited about your appointment as Head of the new Thermal Engineering for the Built Environment Laboratory (TEBEL)?
I’m excited about the opportunity to form my own team and to set the research direction of the Lab in an attempt to shape the future of the built environment. I am also thrilled about the chance to educate young generation and to solve the research questions together.

What will your research focus on over the coming year?
The overall focus of my lab will be on minimizing energy use for thermal conditioning of buildings and building services such as HVAC and hot water supply. The reduction of energy use by building services is intended to be achieved by coupling systems with renewables and maximizing available heat recovery at the source, building, and neighborhood level. Advancement of personalized control of the indoor environment is an approach of TEBEL to enhance the performance of mechanical systems and to ensure comfortable working and living conditions for diverse occupants. And last, but not the least, TEBEL will also focus on active building envelope exchanging heat and moisture efficiently between indoors and outdoors and reducing the use of mechanical HVAC systems.

What inspires you about the built environment of the future and its research schemes?
I envision the future built environment to become highly intelligent, human-centered but at the same time more open and shared. Future buildings will not be designed using average metrics any more, but with the right balance between individual and group needs, which in my opinion, is a big challenge that needs to be addressed.

Whenever you are not doing research, what are you interested in?
Whenever I am not focused on my work, I parent my daughter who is 9 months old at the moment. I enjoy re-discovering the world with her, learning again how everything functions, and take a new look at very ordinary things.