Engineering Unit A

Research Labs and Facilities

Building Components and Envelope Research Laboratory

The Building Components and Envelopes Research Laboratory (BCERL) houses multiple research facilities for the testing of building components at various scales, up to and including sections of full walls, beams, or roofs. Facilities available include:

  • Two custom-built, hydraulically actuated dynamic racking frames capable of simulating in-plane shear seismic loading on wall system mockups up to 12 ft high and 16 ft long, including curtain wall sections, SIP panels, and other wall framings.
  • A concrete strong floor and steel vertical reaction frame for configurable lateral load testing of building components.
  • Variable wind loading facility that can be used to simulate both positive (pressure) and negative (vacuum) wind loading on wall and roof section mockups.
  • Uniform load testing facility, utilizing large air-filled bladders to apply out-of-plane uniform loading to wall or roof systems until failure.  This facility is used to simulate the effects of strong wind, high pressure, and blast loading.
  • Windborne debris impact testing capabilities, with a compressed air cannon capable of propelling steel ball bearings of varying diameters to test windows and other building components at metered velocities.
  • Two hydraulic beam testing facilities capable of performing flexural bend loading on building beams up to 9 feet in length.

These facilities are supported by a variety of sensors, signal conditioning electronics, and data acquisition equipment in addition to a broad collection of hydraulic pumps and actuators.

Building Structures and Materials Laboratory

The Building Structures Laboratory is equipped with the facilities to manufacture, produce, and test a variety of novel building materials including concrete, mortar, and other building-related materials science research. The lab’s capabilities include material component measuring through precision weighing capabilities, mixing (including the ability to use ultra-sonication), material mix assessment, and standards-compliant casting molds. Past and present research in this lab has included studying concrete and mortar mixture design that includes additives such as nanoparticles and geopolymers, among others. There also is the capability to hold samples for indefinite periods at both moderate elevated and reduced temperatures as the test protocol requires.

In-house testing capabilities include material compression and tension strength testing on three universal testing machines: a 22 kip Instron 1350 electrohydraulic machine, a 120 kip Tinius Olsen Super L manual hydraulic machine, and a 110 kip MTS electrohydraulic machine with fully computerized MTS FlexTest controls and an actuator travel of 6 inches.  Fixtures also exist to perform small-scale three-point bending testing.

Other evaluation capabilities include the performance of simultaneous strain gauge measurements during testing, high-speed data acquisition and signal conditioning, and nondestructive evaluation of low-density materials using a portable digital x-ray system.

Advanced materials property testing is available through the university’s Materials Characterization Lab, which offers a wide range of techniques, including high-power optical, scanning electron, and atomic force microscopy, various optical, electron, and x-ray spectroscopic measurements, and thermogravimetric and porosity analyses, among others.

This laboratory is also utilized for teaching demonstrations and academic projects in a number of architectural engineering courses.

Environmental Chamber

Penn State’s Department of Architectural Engineering houses a full-scale environmental test chamber designed for the simulation of indoor environmental conditions. This facility consists of two chambers placed side-by-side, each approximately 12 feet x 13 feet, with independent control over airflow rate, temperature, and indoor/outdoor air exchange and mixing. A programmable logic controller provides computerized HVAC system control and chamber parameter data-logging capabilities. A range of additional sensors may be mounted inside the chamber, including temperature sensors and hotwire anemometers, thermal comfort meters, formaldehyde and VOC sensors, and particle counters, among others. A dedicated data acquisition system provides the ability to log data from any of these additional sensors. Configurable sample line pass-throughs are available from each chamber for air sampling purposes. Airflow tracing and chamber air exchange rates may be precisely determined using a gas chromatograph-electron capture detector measuring sulfur hexafluoride tracer gas concentrations.

Immersive Construction Laboratory

The Immersive Construction Laboratory (ICon Lab) is an immersive workspace with advanced visualization systems built to provide an optimal interactive experience for integrated, team-based workshops. Through virtual reality and ample space for collaboration, the workspace pushes interdisciplinary teams together for design, review, or training. The ICon Lab can hold between 30 and 40 people which enables it to be used for a variety of AEC/FM related meetings and activities.

Indoor Aerosol Laboratory

The Indoor Aerosol Laboratory houses advanced facilities for research into airborne particulates both in the laboratory and in the field. These include:

  • Laboratory grade optical and condensation particle counters from TSI, Climet, Particle Measuring Systems, and Met One covering a range of particulate sizes.
  • TSI Scanning Mobility Particle Sizer (SMPS) system for measurement of nanometer-sized airborne particulates.
  • TSI Aerodynamic Particle Sizer (APS) spectrometer and aerosol diluters.
  • Wide variety of sampling pumps and impactors for airborne particulate sampling and size determination.
  • Custom research facility for investigation of airborne particulate resuspension mechanisms, including floor vibration, air currents, and electrostatic forces.
  • Autonomous field-deployable particulate sensor networks and low-cost sensor evaluation capabilities.
  • Custom particle dispersion and sensor calibration chamber.
  • Thermotron environmental chamber.
  • Test dust production and characterization facilities for allergen, toxin, pet dander, etc.
  • A range of sensors and data acquisition equipment.

Lighting Laboratory

The Lighting Lab is home to three research bays for human factors experiments, a 20-seat demonstration classroom, and a wide array of lighting controls and luminaires.

In addition to a repertoire of legacy luminaires, the lab owns a two pairs of LED arrays with a combined 27 unique LED emitters for producing research spectra. The arrays can be utilized in research bays for immersion experiments or in parallel light booths for tightly controlled experiments. Other installed lighting provides readily available demonstrations for chromaticity, color rendering, Flynn Modes, and more.

The lab is equipped to provide live spectral feedback from an illuminance spectroradiometer that can be embedded in experiments. Additional measurement equipment includes a non-contact spectroradiometer, luminance and illuminance meters, and an HDR imaging setup for producing luminance maps.

DALI, DMX, and MIDI controls are integrated into the research bays and classroom. Readily configurable control surfaces provide for interactive demonstrations and controlled interactions for experiments. 

MorningStar Solar Home

The MorningStar Solar Home is a 100% renewable-energy powered home on Penn State’s University Park campus that produces all the energy needed for its operation (plus some extra for electric vehicles). The MorningStar is currently used by teachers and faculty across Penn State as an immersive learning destination for teaching and learning about sustainability. It is also used for research in the topics of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and smart grid systems.

Photometric Laboratory

This laboratory contains lighting measurement equipment such as a luminaire goniophotometer, an integrating sphere, and a spectroradiometer that are primarily used in lighting courses. The room is painted black to minimize reflections.

The Robotics, Automation, and Intelligent Sensing in Construction Laboratory

The Robotics, Automation, and Intelligent Sensing in Construction (RAISe) Lab supports a broad range of research related to construction automation, robotics, and application of advanced sensing technologies for health and safety monitoring on construction sites and in infrastructure management. The RAISe lab contains an advanced mobile UGV robot equipped with laser scanners, RGB cameras, color stereo camera, IMU sensors, and a robotic manipulator. All support research in human-robot interaction in the field of construction. A mobile robotics digital electronic station is also included. It provides the equipment needed for designing and creating small-scale, affordable construction robots that can open up research into the monitoring of construction progress, as well as unique opportunities for education and training, so students can become familiar with mechatronics systems that combine electronics, engineering mechanics, and computing.

The facility also includes advanced wearable, immersive technologies, including wireless AR and VR headsets. These can simulate a high-resolution environment for safety assessments of dangerous occupations and for virtual training for educational and research purposes. The lab is equipped with many wearable sensors, including EEG, PPG, EDA, and ST sensors, and eye-tracking devices that can be used for real-time monitoring of workers' mental and physical health. It also features a full-body, motion-capture system that has an advanced, wireless, wearable IMU sensor-based system, which can record motion data anywhere without constraints in space or the need for an optical camera. It can be used for assessing worker ergonomics safety risk by monitoring body movements and joint angles. The facility also contains high-capacity CPUs and GPUs for computing with large data acquisition and analysis.

Visualization, Automation and Robotics in Construction Laboratory

The Visualization, Automation and Robotics in Construction (VARCon) Lab supports research in the integration of information technology and automation into the design and construction process. The facility includes multiple head-mounted virtual reality displays and augmented reality devices including a headset as well as handheld devices to create advanced visualization experiences for research, educational, and outreach purposes The lab also contains an advanced indoor tracking system and scaled facility mockup to support research into spatial tracking and evaluation of cyber-physical system approaches toward construction assembly.



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