Public Lab Research note

This is an attempt to replicate an activity.

Thermal Imaging of Fresh Air Intake for Nightingale Hall

by jecnu | December 03, 2014 17:18 03 Dec 17:18 | #11431 | #11431

This is an experiment conducted by three Northeastern University students, Cristina Ransom, John Berrigan, and Erik Hanley.

Research Question What is the condition of the air intake piping behind Nightingale Hall?

Hypothesis Around Nightingale Hall there are several signs indicating multiple clean air intakes. Near these are multiple exhaust and air intake pipes and vents. If these pipes and vents surrounding the clean air intakes are leaking or poorly insulated, then the quality of clean air being supplied to the building could be in jeopardy.

Due to the age of Nightingale Hall, we believe that there must be some deterioration of the heat insulation within the air intake piping. Because of this, we will see red areas along the piping where this deterioration occurs.

Design and Methods We chose a location on our school campus that was easily accessible. What caught our eye were the air intake signs outside Nightingale Hall with old pipes nearby. We decided to perform the experiment at 5 pm in order for the Thermal Flashlight trail to be visible for the long exposure shot. The outside air temperature was fluctuating around 35ºF, so we set the thermometer range from 40-50º after some trial and error. This temperature range was based on the theory that lost gas from a leaky pipe would be warmer than the surrounding air. To get a greater understanding, we took thermal images of multiple pipes within the reach of our flashlight all dealing with air intake.


Our flashlight was encased with a revamped tissue box taped together by duct tape to provide some protection. We then attached it to a spatula to create a makeshift wand. To extend the reach of the flashlight, we also taped it to an old broom handle we found in the trash. Around the lightbulb we placed the mirror of a flashlight to enhance the light quality.

The materials of the piping was metal on the outside. According to our research there should be a layer of insulation behind that metal casing. This insulation was what we predicted to be deteriorated, allowing a temperature change to be viewed through the thermal imaging.

Results and Observations

IMG_5061.JPG Pipe 1: No faults

IMG_5075.JPG Pipe 2: No faults

FullSizeRender-2.jpg Pipe 3: Thermal deficiency in the middle

Conclusion and Future Research We saw Nightingale Hall had a few different air intake pipes and systems. The two first pipes led to the same ventilation and appeared to have no flaws. However a smaller pipe off to the side, connecting to a smaller system was found to have thermal insulation deficiency. This could lead to health issues if quality control is not maintained, yet on average the systems seem to be working well.

Further research on the following questions could continue our research. What exactly do these pipes carry? Is the deteriorated pipe carrying waste air? How does age of clean air intake systems affect the quality of air, and what factors lead to their deterioration? What potential harm to Nightingale’s internal environment do these pipes pose? There were other vents dispelling air near the clean air intakes. Do the vents contribute to a negative effect?

Evaluation We ran into a few problems. We could not find an opaque material that effectively dispersed the separate colors of the LED to make a more homogenous illumination. Temperature range was higher than expected. We initially set the range to 23-33º, with respect to the outside temperature. A floodlight in the area of experimentation caused for readjustment of long exposure picture. If anyone were to repeat this experiments, they should account for these issues.


This image is an example of our original temperature range. It demonstrates how such an error could cause false observations. This pipe appeared fine once the range was adjusted whereas here, it seems as if it would support the hypothesis.


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