Department of Chemistry and Johnson Controls pivot in key partnership to improve indoor air quality

Masters student Stephanie Richards measures air quality near a test furnace

In the last year, UW–Madison researchers and business partners have shown remarkable creativity and flexibility in working together to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Masters student Stephanie Richards measures air quality near a test furnace
Masters student Stephanie Richards reads air quality measurements taken from a custom test duct and furnace, provided by collaborators at Johnson Controls. | Photo by Delaney Kilgour

Wisconsin-based Johnson Controls, Inc. (JCI), a Fortune 500 company based in Milwaukee, partners frequently with UW–Madison, including an ongoing collaboration to improve indoor air quality (see our May 2020 article).

Once the pandemic hit, the Department of Chemistry’s researchers and their partners at JCI quickly refocused their work on reducing the spread of infectious diseases such as COVID-19.

According to a February 2021 article from the Department of Chemistry:

The partnership brings together each team’s expertise and resources from Johnson Controls, which makes it possible for the research team to quickly acquire the equipment it needs for experiments and share their knowledge about how the equipment would work in buildings.

“We know buildings, engineering and HVAC really well,” said Kirk H. Drees, director of research and modeling at Johnson Controls. “We rely on the chemistry department’s expertise for how aerosols distribute throughout indoor spaces. Together, we are able to come up with tangible and realistic solutions for minimizing the spread of infectious agents.”

“The collaboration between Johnson Controls and the Bertram group is a perfect example of how UW–Madison works with our industry partners to create mutually beneficial outcomes,” said Chris Kozina, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Industry Engagement and interim Managing Director of the Office of Business Engagement (OBE). “By recognizing and identifying our complementary strengths, we can adapt our approach to solving society’s problems in a complex, rapidly changing environment.”

This project is just one thread in a multi-dimensional relationship between JCI and UW–Madison. In addition to past research projects to advance battery technology, improve vehicle fuel efficiency and design HVAC control systems to lower costs (among others), Johnson Controls also provided valuable internship opportunities in 2020 to a number of UW–Madison students.

Engagement Directors at OBE work closely with the University’s industry partners to foster collaborations such as this. Industry partnerships are mutually beneficial, providing UW–Madison faculty and researchers with needed resources and giving businesses access to our world-class research capabilities. Together, we are having a positive impact on Wisconsin and the world.

Contact us to find out more about partnering with UW–Madison.