Engineering Unit A

Research Labs and Facilities

Building Components and Envelope Research Laboratory (BCERL)

The Building Components & 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 framing.
  • 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 ft 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. 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 has included studying concrete and mortar mixture design that includes additives such as nano-particles and geopolymers, among others. There is also 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 3-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 (ICon Lab)

The 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 meeting 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 size airborne particulate.
  • 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.

Indoor Environment Center Laboratory

This laboratory houses facilities for the study of indoor environments with focus on building safety, comfort, and increased energy efficiency.  Resources focus on building mechanical system development, indoor air quality improvement, and energy efficiency evaluation. Equipment available includes:

  • A custom-built ASHRAE standard 52.2 ventilation air-cleaning device testing facility, specially modified for the evaluation of ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) devices for air disinfection in mechanical systems.
  • Custom-built, temperature controlled variable air flow loop (low-speed wind tunnel) for evaluation of the effects of temperature and air velocity on the performance of UV germicidal lamps.
  • Facility for static long-term testing of UV lamp performance and output degradation over time.
  • UV reactors for both air phase and aqueous phase exposure of microorganisms.
  • Facilities for the handling of biological materials up to biosafety level 2.
  • Capabilities for viable and non-viable aerosol sampling, including multi-stage Andersen impactors and sample pumps.
  • A model experimental HVAC system including an air handler, hydronic heating and cooling, thermal storage capability, and indoor and outdoor condition simulation chambers. This system is heavily instrumented in all aspects with temperature and flow sensors and has a networked data acquisition system.
  • Equipment for energy audit investigations, including a flow measurement hood, balometer, blower door system for whole home air tightness measurements, duct leakage test system, air handler flow meter, thermal imaging cameras, and other handheld instrumentation.
  • Portable instrumentation for temperature, humidity, pressure, carbon dioxide, radon, ozone, airflow, outdoor weather, and airborne VOC and total hydrocarbon measurement.
  • Supporting laboratory sensors and data acquisition equipment.

Lighting Laboratory

MorningStar Solar Home

The MorningStar Solar Home is a 100% renewable-energy powered home on Penn State’s 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.

Visualization, Automation and Robotics in Construction (VARCon) Laboratory

The VARCon Lab supports research in the integration of information technology and automation into the design and construction process.  The facility includes multiple virtual reality head-mounted displays and augmented reality devices including a headset and 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