Teaching Clean and Green

Assistant professor to help lead the charge in new architectural engineering emphasis area

You could say that building is in his blood. The son of a residential builder, Travis Horton grew up in southern Utah very much interested in how facilities are constructed and how efficiently, or inefficiently, they operate. After his youthful interests converged with various engineering degrees, he is now returning to Purdue—he graduated with a PhD in mechanical engineering in 2001—to teach in the School of Civil Engineering's new architectural engineering emphasis area. That new area was introduced in January.

It's a welcome homecoming of sorts for the man whose emphasis in mechanical engineering was in thermodynamics and energy-conversion systems. Horton spent seven years in industry at Tecumseh Products, where he "worked closely with supermarkets to improve the efficiency and environmental friendliness of supermarket refrigeration systems."

Horton, now an assistant professor of civil engineering, brings not only that industry experience to civil engineering classrooms at Purdue but also teaching experience he gained in mechanical engineering over the last year and a half at the University of Maryland. There he worked with students at the Center for Environmental Energy Engineering to help identify the so-called "low-hanging fruit" that could help reduce a campus facility's energy usage.

"There's a renewed emphasis on building zero-energy homes and buildings," Horton says. That is, buildings that exhibit a net-energy consumption of zero over a typical year. So office buildings, which reportedly account for as much as 40 percent of the total energy use in the U.S. and Europe, can take a lead in the greenness of sustainability. They may do this on the supply side by utilizing solar and wind energies, Horton says, or through the combustion of bio-fuels for small-scale, distributed power generation.

It is also important, however, to address the demand side of the energy equation and utilize new technologies and methodologies that improve the energy efficiency of a facility.

For Horton, who has worked across disciplines himself, federal government mandates that call for these zero-energy buildings and homes over the next 10 to 20 years will require builders to focus on complete integrated systems. "It's about understanding all the various parts," he says. "Not just how the subcontractors—the electricians and the heating and air folks—do what they do, but how it all relates."

He is excited to balance his practical experience with the theories in his courses. And he knows that is something students crave. The first course he is teaching at Purdue is "Introduction to Architectural Engineering," which enrolled more than 60 students. Having taught a course called "Building Energy Audits" while at the University of Maryland, Horton should have ample opportunity for crossover work in the School of Mechanical Engineering as well as the Division of Construction Engineering and Management.

And in spite of the hassles of his family's winter and holiday-season move, Horton is also quite happy settling back in West Lafayette with his wife and three kids. They seem to like the pace of life here a little better than in Maryland. And with Purdue and the School of Civil Engineering committed to the development of green technologies, Horton knows there are certainly sunny days ahead.