Pioneering construction efficiency researcher to join architectural engineering


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Houtan Jebelli, a researcher whose work focuses on enhancing the efficiency and well-being of construction workers via low-cost biosensors, will join Penn State’s Department of Architectural Engineering in May 2019.

“Houtan is a rising star, a highly motivated and energetic individual,” said Sez Atamturktur, Harry and Arlene Schell Professor and head of the Department of Architectural Engineering. “The quality of his work has been recognized by many in our discipline, as evidenced by the recognitions and awards he has already received.”

Jebelli uses the areas of data science, automation, robotics, sensing and virtual and augmented reality to evaluate the psychological and physical well-being of those in the construction industry.

“Construction workers are working in hazardous conditions, often at extreme heights, putting their own lives and others at risk,” he said. “In addition, construction workers are in a very competitive field of employment, working out in the open in the public eye and dealing with a very hard deadline for most projects. Because of these reasons, construction workers often suffer from high mental and physical stress.”

The human body, Jebelli notes, reacts to these stressors in ways that are measurable through the use of low-cost biosensors. These sensors include electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure brain wave patterns during workers’ activity, a photoplethysmogram (PPG) to measure cardio activity and an electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor to measure how the workers’ nervous system is effecting their sweat glands and sensors to measure the workers’ skin temperature.

“With this data, I am trying to apply advanced signal processing and machine learning methods to recognize worker physiological and psychological responses under different stressors based on the pattern of their physiological signals,” he said.

At Penn State, Jebelli will build upon his research to develop methods to enable safer construction sites and more productive and healthier workers. This includes designing wearable sensor systems for automatic hazard detection and health monitoring at construction sites, which would include technology such as automatic and non-invasive continuous monitoring of construction workers’ heat stress and dehydration. He also plans to develop a training platform to help improve construction workers’ cognitive function under stress by combining augmented reality technology with an EEG to measure reaction to simulated stressors.

Jebelli will receive his Ph.D. in civil engineering, specializing in construction engineering and management, from the University of Michigan in April 2019. He received a master’s degree in structural engineering from Sharif University of Technology in Iran in 2013. He completed a second master’s degree in construction engineering and management at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2015. While pursuing his Ph.D., Houtan received his third master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science with a minor in biomedical engineering from the University of Michigan in 2016.

Jebelli’s doctoral and master’s research has yielded 17 peer-reviewed journal articles, 11 peer-reviewed conference papers and two book chapters. He has received the Charles M. Eastman Top Ph.D. Paper Award from the International Council for Research and Innovation in Building Construction; two Outstanding Master’s Thesis Awards, one from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and one from Sharif University of Technology; the Rackham Research Grant and the John L. Tishman Fellowship from the University of Michigan; and the Calvin C. Solem Foundation Fellowship from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Jebelli serves as a reviewer for a number of journals and symposia in the fields of civil engineering and electrical engineering and computer science. Jebelli is also a member of two American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) committees, the Data Sensing and Analysis and Visualization committee and the Information Modeling and Simulation committee.

Given Jebelli’s diverse background in civil engineering, architectural engineering and electrical engineering and computer science, he will teach a variety of graduate and undergraduate courses related to construction engineering and management. This includes developing a new graduate and advanced undergraduate course on construction data gathering and “smart” cities, municipalities that use data-sensing technologies to increase operational efficiency.

“Houtan is a wonderful addition for our department from both a research and a teaching perspective,” Atamturktur said. “Our world-class faculty hail from a variety of engineering disciplines, such as electrical, mechanical, structural, acoustical, lighting, etc. And all bring a laser-sharp focus on improving building engineering, so he will fit very well in that model.”


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Jamie Oberdick

houtan jebelli

Houtan Jebelli



Widely acknowledged as one of the top Architectural Engineering programs in the world, the Penn State AE Department is dedicated to providing outstanding academic excellence to all of our students. The AE program is focused on preparing students and conducting research in the design, engineering, and construction of building projects.

Department of Architectural Engineering

104 Engineering Unit A

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802

Phone: 814-865-6394