Public Lab Research note

This is an attempt to replicate an activity.

Thermal Imaging of Northeastern University buildings

by evanbjacobson | December 03, 2014 18:02 03 Dec 18:02 | #11433 | #11433

Group members: Kathryn Tomase, Evan Jacobson, Elikem Tamaklo

This study aims to determine the relative temperature of various rooms (classrooms, residence halls) in different buildings on Northeastern’s campus using our thermal flashlight, and observe if each location is energy efficient.

Northeastern University is ranked in the top 5 of higher education schools in the world for being “green”, as shown in an article from January of this year, (, So where does a “green” school use their energy? Last year, the DivestNU movement worked to help Northeastern Divest from fossil fuels, and this advocacy strengthens our hypothesis that NU will likely be highly conscious of its overall heat use and allocation of heat based on room usage. We hypothesize that Northeastern would regulate the temperatures in buildings to make sure that they are all using energy efficiently and cost effectively, and for the aspects of energy use that we can measure we believe that they would not overheat any rooms, especially in hours of the day when these rooms do not get much use.

nu.JPG Northeastern university campus buildings



Making a suitable housing for the thermal flashlight involved careful consideration of ways to reduce experimental/human error, while ensuring the product worked efficiently. We decided to fasten all the parts of the product onto a squash racket, using some strong adhesive tape. This design gives the investigator the needed mobility to reach into hard-to-reach spaces, while eliminating human error associated with having your [warm] hand too close to the sensor (thus producing inaccurate results). The device was surrounded by a loop of card board to offer some protection, as well as thermal insulation.

What I want to do

We will first select rooms in different buildings around campus. The selected rooms will include locations in both old and new buildings. Once we have determined the rooms we will then take long exposure pictures of these rooms and the thermal flashlight to determine their temperatures and where they are losing heat. Our flashlight was set to a temperature range of 60-90 degrees fahrenheit, in order to detect temperatures within the range of room temperature (which we thought should be about 70 degrees fahrenheit.
These long exposure pictures will be taken using an iphone app called Long expo.

My attempt and results

Fig. 1 - Thermal Imaging of a West Village G dorm room (thermostat indicated 70 degrees fahrenheit)



Fig. 2 - Thermal Imaging of a Shillman classroom (room temperature around 80 degrees farenheit)



Fig. 3 - Thermal Imaging of a curry classroom (room temperature around 70 degrees farenheit)



Note: The red light seen in this picture was the unavoidable light from a smoke detector, and not from the thermal flashlight.

After taking pictures in multiple rooms around campus, we determined that not all of the buildings are monitored for temperature in the same way. We were left with a range of different temperatures from cold in an IV hallway, occupied by students, to hot in an empty Shillman classroom at night.


Although Northeastern is a top rated “green” school, we may not be correctly allocating all of our energy resources. Although some of the rooms we photographed did fall within the range of “room temperature” there were also a few outliers. As mentioned in the results, one of the hallways in International Village ranged on the colder side even though populated with students. On the other end of that spectrum, an empty classroom in Shillman after class hours was unreasonably warm (approximately 80 degrees fahrenheit). Both of these buildings are relatively new and therefore should not have any trouble maintaining a steady temperature. In the long run it would benefit both Northeastern and their environment to consider some sort of monitoring system for the temperatures in their buildings. This way cold, populated buildings can be properly heated while warm unpopulated ones can be allowed to cool down to refrain from wasting energy used by heating them.

Questions and next steps

It would be interesting to conduct a university-wide, thermal mapping project to identify the energy inefficient buildings on campus, in hopes that the university will allocate resources more efficiently to curb the issue of misuse of resources (and thus energy inefficiency). Another inetersting study- in the meantime- would be to conduct a thermal mapping activity of all campus buildings. This data will be made available to students and will show which buildings are the 'coziest' (in terms of heat), so students could go warm up quickly during snow storms or cold weather in general. One way of conserving energy while conducting these studies is though the use of motion detectors in the rooms. After a certain periof of time where no motion is detected in a room the lights should turn off and the temperature could be loweredto a preset temperature to conserve energy.

Why I'm interested

As students really passionate in the DivestNU movement, we saw it suitable to undertake a project like this; our own contribution as students who are concerned about misallocation of resources. As students of health, we wanted to use our thermal flashlights in a way that could address environmental health concerns that are close-to-home. In the process of experimenting with the technology, we discovered an inconsistency and lack of responsible use of energy by our institution. We can build off of this discovery by education and collective action to help create a cleaner world, starting with the buildings we learn in every day.

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