In the blistering heat of the summer, when the three H’s — hazy, hot and humid — dominate the weather forecast, people gravitate toward the refreshing stream of comfort from an air conditioner. Similarly, when a polar vortex descends, people seek the warmth from a heater to help unfurl frozen fingers.
Ya Wang, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Stony Brook University, is working on a type of vent that will direct the soothing air toward people wherever they are, whether they’re cozying up on a couch, dropping down at a desk, or resting in a recliner.
Teaming up with professor Lei He and professor Qibing Pei at the University of California, Los Angeles, Wang and her partners recently received a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for a proposal that will make the vents for these air conditioners and heaters more efficient, lowering the cost to heat or cool a room.
Wang and her collaborators are developing a vent that will enable the air conditioner or heater to work less hard at changing the temperature in the parts of a room where a filing cabinet, a ficus tree, or a fireplace is, targeting the soothing air at the room’s occupants.
The new vent could generate 30 percent savings through such directed flow, SBU estimates. “We can regulate the airflow velocity by a special design and adjust the temperature to whatever is needed,” Wang said. “This will adjust automatically to regulate the airflow velocity back to the occupant.”
Wang is the principal investigator on the project, which means she collaborated on the idea and put it together.
Unlike academic funds, which require researchers to conduct experiments and produce data, this grant was awarded to produce a product.
Aside from coordinating the effort, Wang will also focus on developing the harvesters, which will provide a power supply for the on-board sensors and actuators. Wang and her collaborators estimate a cost of less than $20 per unit, with a $60 per year per unit electricity savings.
Jeff Ge, chairman of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at SBU, said Wang is one of six new faculty members hired in the past two years. He said she received positive reviews for her research and teamwork.
“The work of Dr. Wang and her colleagues to enhance energy efficiency is one of the most important research endeavors for our state and society,” Samuel Stanley, president of SBU, said in a statement.
Apart from her work on the new vent, Wang spends about a quarter of her time teaching, 65 percent of her time on academic research, advising graduate and undergraduate students, and about 10 percent of her time in community service. She participates in a seminar for women in science and engineering, and encourages women to enter these fields.
She is working through other grants on energy-related research. With the U.S. Department of Transportation, she is developing ways to tap into the vibrational energy from subway trains and from the wind these cars generate to power sensors that monitor the track. As it stands, the DOT sends people to the tracks to make sure they are functioning correctly. By reusing other forms of energy, the department can create a more extensive monitoring system that won’t involve as many potentially hazardous trips onto the tracks for transit workers.
Wang said soldiers in the field often carry a few hundred tons of batteries to power electronics and communication systems. She is working with the U.S. Navy to generate power by walking or running. To be sure, that won’t provide all the necessary energy, but it can supply some of the power for electronics or communications.
A Smithtown resident, Wang woke up one night to the sounds of her smoke alarm battery indicating it needed replacing.
She’s working on a circuit that will use vibrational energy for the detector. She has a one-year old nephew and sees an opportunity to create batteries that tap into vibrational energy or the temperature difference between a toy and the air to provide power.
With all her interests in energy for commercial applications, Wang would be a compelling candidate to work in industry. Why, then, did she choose to come to SBU, an academic home where she’s worked for 18 months?
“My dream, since I was a kid,” in Shandong Province in China, was “to be a teacher,” she said. “I enjoy working with new students.”