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Modeling the Way: COVID-19 Research

Man working on architecture model.

In recent months, air flow has been a topic of interest in COVID-19 research. Using graphs and models, many researchers are hopeful in investigating role of air flow in particle transmission. At SDSU, the School of Design has been using 3D modeling for various parts of study in their curriculum. Now, students and faculty in the Department of Architecture are taking this modeling and putting into projects that can help SDSU and the Brookings community.

Brian Rex, department head and associate professor of architecture, said a recent project they have been working on is studying air flow using modeling systems.

“We have a really powerful capacity for modeling now,” Rex said. “We have invested heavily in laser scanning technology.” Rex explained they can use that technology to model how air travels through a room or building. This type of research can assist in understanding how to best keep students, faculty and staff safe in buildings on campus and in the community.

This modeling system has been used for many other projects as well. Rex said, “We built up the architecture program as being the place to get your graphical content. We had archaeologists, anthropologists, meteorologists and others using us to build models for them.” One example was working with a paleontology group at Texas Tech University to model dinosaur parts. Students took 3D scans of fossils and animated them so they could move. The models created for these different projects help bring an idea or phenomenon to life. “A digital model itself only goes so far,” Rex said. “You’ve got to eventually be able to get it out of there, so we have all the tools to make physical models out of the digital models we make.”

While modeling is used in architecture to make decisions about designs of projects like buildings and cities, Rex said this modeling can be used to help explain the world. “We bring a mixture of the humanities and technical graphics together,” said Rex. Students begin modeling in the first year of the program but begin diving into phenomena modeling closer to years three and four. By modeling a phenomenon such as air flow, students are able to develop real-world skills and offer solutions in the necessary area of COVID-19 research.

The modeling systems used have the complexity to add different conditions such as elasticity, momentum, gravity, surface and texture color and more. These conditions help bring out objects or events that might not always be clear to the human eye. “You take a natural phenomenon and you want to make it visible,” said Rex. Whether it be COVID-19 research or modeling dinosaur fossils, these projects uphold the mission of our university by offering students a rich academic experience.