Dahae Seong

Date of Award

Fall 2021

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Civil and Environmental Engineering

First Advisor

Shamia Hoque


Buildings are complex ecosystems evolving continuously. Indoor components such as occupants, ventilation system, and building structures influence the microbiome. To shed light on how the microbial population in a building will respond to such a fluid system, the fundamental interactions between microbes and the indoor ecosystem must be understood. Buildings are being designed as air-tight structures to save energy; however, this could lead to degradation of indoor air quality through indoor sources of contaminants and/or containment of pollutants in the room or introduce outdoor pollutants indoors depending on the ventilation conditions. In addition, transmission of infectious microbes in indoors threaten the health and well-being of people sharing the indoor spaces. Recent outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) have brought to attention the significance of understanding indoor microbial fate and transmission mechanisms. This study focused on transitioning the existing body of knowledge on indoor environment and microbiome towards informing building design and generating insight into the mechanisms governing microbial fate and transport in indoor spaces.

An extensive literature review coupled with fractional factorial design approach was applied to identify bacterial families as bio-fingerprints of spaces for the first time. The bio-fingerprints allows the prediction of the possible bacteria present in a building space considering gender, age, and building usage. Field sampling at educational buildings extended knowledge of the influence of occupant characteristics, surface type and the influence of air exchange systems: vents, doors, and windows. While presence of occupants resulted in an increase in particles and microbes, activity significantly influenced bacterial quantity from outdoor sources. Microbial levels were significant depending on whether the age group of the occupants was averaging under or over the 10-year-old, indicating that policies to improve indoor air quality need to account for the distinct nature of elementary schools while high schools and universities may have more similar traits. For surface materials, bacterial levels were lowest on metals and highest on carpets and, tiles. The ventilation system had minimal influence on the removal of microbes generated from indoor sources. The analysis highlighted possible dominance of wall and boundary effects on bacterial transport before occupants’ influence take over. To gain better understanding of boundary effects and surface – microbes interactions, the influence of surface properties, surface types, external forces (inertial force and shear stress) were investigated. Enveloped viruses, vaccinia virus (VACV) and measles virus (MV), bacteria (Corynebacterium sp.) and bovine serum albumin (BSA) were applied. Quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation (QCM-D) was used to measure the change of mass on a range of ‘ideal’ surfaces for varying flow rates and to determine the adhesion kinetics governing the attachment and detachment process. Centrifugal experiments tested bacterial attachment and detachment from ‘real’ surfaces. Attachment and detachment kinetics were unique to each microbesurface combination and shear stress magnitudes governed the extent of detachment.