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Faculty Research Spotlight: Phuong Nguyen

Construction may be among humanity's oldest industries, but there are still ways to deliver better, more efficient outcomes. That’s according to Phuong Nguyen, an assistant professor in South Dakota State University's Jerome J. Lohr College of Engineering.

Nguyen is a new faculty member in the Department of Construction and Operations Management and, after moving to Brookings last August, has brought his unique research focus to the college. His work revolves around utilizing new developments in technology, like human performance sensors and artificial intelligence, to improve the efficiency and productivity of construction workers on job sites while also developing decision-making support systems and innovative project delivery and contracting methods. 

Phoung Nguyen

"My research aims to enhance the human-technology interface in the built environment for driving strategic management decision-making in construction productivity and safety applications," Nguyen said. "By deepening our understanding of how human factors impact the adaptation and implementation of emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, digital technologies, robotics and automation, in the construction industry, we can improve the accuracy and reliability of existing modeling and dynamic simulation approaches to assist in the creation of safer, more productive, lower-risk workplaces."

Vietnam to California to Kansas to Canada

A native of Vietnam, Nguyen received a master's degree in construction management from California State University, East Bay, in 2016, before moving on to the University of Kansas. There he earned his doctorate in civil engineering with a specialization in construction engineering and management.

Following his stint in Lawrence, Nguyen spent three years up north as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alberta's Hole School of Construction Engineering.

During his academic climb, Nguyen published research on optimizing snowplow routes in Kansas and analyzing the current state of project delivery methods for capital airport projects. He has given multiple talks at engineering-specific conferences for his work on capital airport projects.

Before moving stateside, Nguyen earned a bachelor's degree from Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology, and worked in the private sector as a construction consultant intern.

Future plans

Nguyen hopes to build upon his previous research in construction engineering and operations management while also exploring the research potential of the department's virtual reality system — something that originally attracted him to SDSU.

"I am looking to integrate the virtual reality system into my current research," Nguyen said. "With VR, we simulate how different types of conditions will have on construction workers."

For example, Nguyen can test how construction workers perform at heights, by utilizing both VR and human performance sensors.

"I was very interested in the VR lab when I came to SDSU," Nguyen added. "There's a lot of situations that we can't test in a normal lab. VR allows us to test different scenarios."

Human performance sensors — technology found on Fitbits and WHOOP bands — can give data sets regarding heart rate, respiration, calories burned and distance traveled, among others. By analyzing this data in different circumstances and scenarios, Nguyen can create more efficient worksite processes and plans.

"Adopting these technologies is a way we can efficiently improve construction productivity and performance," Nguyen explained.

The research needs to be practical, Nguyen noted, which is why he will be looking for industry partners as he settles into his role at SDSU. His work is also expected to be multidisciplinary, and Nguyen plans to collaborate with faculty in other colleges and departments. Currently, Nguyen is working with the College of Nursing on a future project to increase safety on the job site.

Outside of academics, Nguyen was a former competitive badminton player but now plays recreationally. A fan of the outdoors, Nguyen enjoys hiking and camping — hobbies he picked up while being next door to Canada's Banff National Park while at his previous stop.