Measures to improve energy efficiency come with a multitude of benefits—financial, environmental, and global to name a few. Common choices to maximize efficient energy use include high quality insulation, compact fluorescent light bulbs, and energy efficient appliances. Doctoral candidate Marwa Zaatari is on the brink of offering another innovative solution to minimize energy use. Her solution? Improving air quality.
Marwa is investigating the link between airborne particulate matter control and energy use in commercial buildings. Her research explores energy implications of filtration by measuring fan power consumption, airflow, current, static pressure, and pressure drop across filters and fan for multiple scenarios of system airflow. Marwa is studying the use of an inexpensive particulate sensor to control ventilation. Her research will generate fan curves for pressure, power, and efficiency and will establish meaningful tradeoffs between internal air quality and energy costs associated with filtration.
This isn’t Marwa’s first breakthrough in the area of improving energy efficiency. After completing a training program at Middle East Airport Services, she developed the idea to apply the system used on airplanes for cooling, heating, freezing, and power generation to a shopping mall. Her successful project effectively decreased energy use and carbon dioxide emissions.
Marwa’s diverse background in environmental energy engineering includes a master’s degree in Engineering Management from the American University of Beirut in Lebanon and a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the Lebanese University (LU) in Beirut. Marwa describes the challenges she has faced in pursuing her engineering education, “As a female in Lebanon, your role and contribution is limited by society’s preconceived notion of what is proper for a girl,” she says. “I, however, vowed to free myself…to challenge society’s crippling definitions, and to further myself in a field that is deemed ‘unfit’ for girls. It is with solid, ironclad determination that I molded a future for myself in engineering which best suits my ambitions, my abilities, and my love for life and its works. The ongoing journey has been a long and arduous one.”
Of more than 3,000 student applicants to LU, Marwa was one of 120 students accepted, as well as one of the only females in her class. She remembers walking into her very first class, when a group of males stopped her. Thinking she was lost, they pointed her in the direction of the Literature department. Marwa went on to be ranked first in her class her final three years at LU.
While finishing her master’s degree in Lebanon, Marwa searched for a doctoral program; she wanted to find a school of innovative thinkers with access to advanced research facilities. Dr. Issam Srour, a University of Texas graduate and Marwa’s favorite professor, recommended UT’s Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering program. She says, “Being in a top school is both exciting and rewarding. I spend most of my time at the Pickle Research Center and the work environment there fosters innovation and productivity. Students are very friendly and they are willing to help each other out instead of being competitive.”
When away from her research, Marwa explores the “original weird city” of Austin and its endless possibilities. She enjoys watching the bats in action at dusk from the Congress Avenue bridge and seeing spectacular sunsets from Mount Bonnell. She takes full advantage of what the city has to offer, and she and her husband have recently taken up salsa dancing.
Marwa knows how to enjoy life and knows what she wants. “My future goal is to make a significant contribution to research and teaching in the field of energy and indoor air quality,” she says. “I envision myself returning to Lebanon to participate in the Clean Air Act and initiate an air quality program. Most important, I hope I can enhance peoples’ lives by spreading knowledge about air quality and public health.”