According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend about 90 percent of their time in buildings, and they consume significant amounts of energy while doing so. As a result, buildings are the largest carbon dioxide emitter and contributor to greenhouse gas emissions nationally.

To help combat environmental threats from increasing levels of carbon dioxide, Dominic Bednar spent his summer researching building durability and efficiency. He is a civil engineering and environmental studies student at the University of Michigan and a participant in the GEM fellowship program. The program is a partnership between the National GEM Consortium for Graduate Engineering Degrees for Minorities and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

The National GEM Consortium Program provides minority students opportunities to experience STEM-related research in national laboratory settings. The GEM program at ORNL is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, a U.S. Department of Energy institute managed by ORAU.

With mentors Roderick Jackson, Ph.D., and William Miller, Ph.D., Bednar developed models of energy consumption in four buildings to better understand the flow and source of moisture in residential homes with sealed attics.

ORNL Graduate Student Research Profile: Dominic Bednar

Dominic Bednar, GEM fellow at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, models buildings to better understand energy consumption patterns.

He traveled to Orlando and Gainesville, Florida, to visit two of the four homes involved in the study. While there, Bednar installed temperature, relative humidity and moisture sensors in the houses and verified their reporting functions. For Bednar, these site visits were the most impactful portion of his summer research experience because this direct interaction established a personal connection to his data.

Bednar’s building energy model outputs will be used along with moisture risk assessment tools in the next phase of the project.

“I envision my role in community development to be central to STEM, leadership and environmental advocacy,” Bednar said. “I hope to assist in residential energy efficiency development and the realization of sustainable solutions.”

Bednar was selected from ORNL GEM fellows to present his research at the 40th annual National GEM Conference. In the National Technical Presentation Competition, Bednar placed third.

After his ORNL research experience, Bednar began his doctoral program at the University of Michigan. He plans to continue developing STEM and leadership skills while promoting environmental sustainability awareness.

“My motivation to pursue a Ph.D. in civil engineering and in natural resources and environment stems from its intimate connection with human life—providing us with shelter, water and access to sustainable energy,” Bednar explained. “I hope to revitalize this coveted link, combating components of a much larger social justice issue through my research.”

Overall, collaborating with a research team to investigate tangible problems reinforced Bednar’s educational pursuits.

“I’ve watched my research and experience come full circle—from building model-sized homes in my freshman year of high school to my current and future research on energy efficiency in residential homes,” Bednar said. “I believe my experiences with GEM and ORNL were right on time.”