Mobile Diagnostic Lab (MDL)

Construction Start Date: January 24, 2017
Construction Completion: August 31, 2017 


The Mobile Diagnostic Lab (MDL) was completed by the end of August 2017. Led by Prof. Ulrike Passe, the MDL is a project formulated by students in multiple disciplines and professors at Iowa State University.

Funding that made this project possible include:

  • Center for Building Energy Research
  • Iowa NSF EPSCoR
  • Special thanks to Behrouz Shafei CCEE


The MDL is designed as a mobile lab with capabilities to move to different cities or locations and collect performance data. The lab was designed with the purpose of flexibility in research use, so as new students work with it, they can develop their own research.

The structure consists of two rooms: A lab which consists of two offset windows for air ventilation, a Removable Wall Section (RWS), and open space for future research. The second room is the mechanical room holding the HVAC duct work, a work table, and sensor data logging equipment. 

The MDL is filled with thermosters which collect temperatures within the entire structure. There is one section per wall, ceiling, or floor which contains a gradient of sensors tracking the thermal transfer through the wall. We also designed the interior finishes and wall materials to be removable to allow materials to be changed out and make repairs. This proved to be a useful method as we learned how to construct the lab! The floor in the lab space is made out of click-lock bamboo with a layer of radiant flooring below it. In the mechanical space we have a durable gray tile. (Pictures are posted near the end of this post.)



Continuing Research:

One of the walls in the lab is designed to be a Removable Wall Section (RWS) where we can remove a section of a wall, create a new wall section and reinsert it to see how it compairs to the other walls. The other walls are predetermined to be our "Standard" for which we base our measurements and compare the new wall section to. Taking lead on this section is Grad. Student Glen Veigas. 

More information about Prof. Behrouz Shafei's research will come later. 

The research capabilities of the MDL are extensive, leaving many areas to explore and expand in including the following:

  • Removable wall section
    • Moisture control
    • Thermal capacity
    • Aesthetic Indicators
    • Testing assemblies in diverse regions
  • HVAC
    • Energy Systems
    • Model Improvements
  • Air Quality Measurements
  • Microclimate in various locations
  • Occupant interfacing
  • Human research capacity
  • Passive ventilation
  • Energy sources
  • Future expansion



Iowa NSF EPSCoR focused on efforts to prepare a workforce and broaden the participation of women, underrepresented minorities, and first-generation college students in the STEM pipeline, and create a community of scholars who integrate broader impacts into their research effort.  



Photos of the lab completion:

Photo Credit: Zach Thielen

Mobile Diagnostic Lab Exterior Image Mobile Diagnostic Lab exterior. Removable wall section can be seen on the right side of the image.


Mechanical Room Setup Mechanical Room Set up. Wires on left side of image connect to the sensors in the lab and mechanical spaces and then relay information to the data logger.


Air Intake Image from inside of lab looking toward mechanical room. This shows the air intake for the space. The interior wall panels are white polycarbonate sheets bolted onto painted, wooden seam guides. The metal boxes you see are radiation shields for the sensors throughout the space. These were made by cutting and bending sheet metal. 


 Detail of polycarbonate connections to the wall using bolts. Flooring material is click-lock bamboo.



 Polycarbonate piece being removed. The back side of the polycarbonate is lined with weather stripping to prevent air movement. 



 Image of the polycarbonate removed, exposing the interior layer of insulation.



 Insulation removed, exposing the plywood layer. Behind this plywood layer includes u-line channel with insulation between each space, and wooden spacers between the insulation and exterior finish to create an air gap.


 Ceiling with light and sensors.


 Interior door and window corner condition.


Entrance to MDL Mechanical and Lab spaces.


The MDL runs by using a generator. It also has capabilities to attach to equipment similar to camp grounds.


 Removable Wall Section from the exterior.


 Entrance to lab space and interior view of RWS. The RWS is covered with clear polycarbonate so viewers may see how the wall is put together and sensor placement. Note: The sensors are not yet in place in this image.


Team led by Prof. Ulrike Passe.



Students who have worked on this project:


Current Students:


Laura Michealson

Sophomore in Mechanical Engineering


Kaylinn Taggart 

Senior in Architecture and Community/Regional Planning


Zach Thielen

Senior in Architecture


Glenn Veigas

Graduate Research Assistant in Architecture



Former Students


Jacob Benner

Mechanical Engineering


Yoann Gorostiaga

CBER Intern

Civil Engineering and City Planning


Evan Jeanblanc



Esdras Murillo

Electrical Engineer with Power and control system emphasis




For more information, leave us a comment below or send us an email!