This weeks Spotlight on Research is with Dr Zohreh Pourzolfaghar, DCU School of Computing and SFI Industry Fellow with ARCDOX.
Zohreh, you work on smart cities – what approach are you taking?
“Generally, smart cities are based on connected systems, where technology helps to provide services that make the city run better for the people there. In order to provide many of these services, we need to connect the output of different technologies and and integrate them to provide new services for the citizens. My work looks to put the priority of the citizens at the centre of these strategies, and I particularly look at how we can use information from buildings.”
Can you give us an example of how connecting information from buildings can help a city to plan and work more efficiently?
“Let’s say there are heavy rains or a flood from a river. The extra water could go into the underground storage of buildings. So if we have information about underground storage capacities of buildings and we know the weather forecast tells us there will be heavy rains, we can work out whether or not there is the capacity for the buildings to store the extra water. For this to happen though, we need the construction industry to share the digital information about the buildings.”
What have you been working on in DCU?
“I have been working closely with DCU Estates to see how we can get information from buildings on campus and connect it. For example, in the case of smoke alarms at the moment they need to be checked manually, what if we can have a system that monitors them automatically and tells you when one needs a new battery. I am examining the gaps in our digital information from buildings in cities more generally, and I also look at how we can use big data analytics for the benefit of smart cities. I am currently on a Science Foundation Ireland Industry Fellowship with the company ARCDOX, which has expertise in building information modelling.”
How do you carry out your research?
“In my work I look to recognise who are the stakeholders in the smart city, what do they require and how can their needs be incorporated in the design. This means reading a lot of academic papers and writing new ones, writing proposals for research and having a lot of contact with the stakeholders. For example I need to talk to industry to find out the technology and needs they have into the future, so I have organised many events and forums and workshops, to build connections and gather information.”
How did you develop an interest in smart city design?
“In Iran, which is where I am from, I was working as a consultant for the construction industry, then I went into academia and I did a PhD in Malaysia on process management in building projects. I was interested in how knowledge is exchanged and I came to DCU to study that further.”
What are the main challenges and rewards of being a researcher?
“There are many challenges for us as researchers at the post-doctoral level, which is when you have your PhD but you are not a lecturer or permanent member of staff. There is insecurity, and while you are working on the research you are not building up more qualifications, you don’t know where your future will be. I do love the research itself though. I like that I am dealing with new things all the time and finding solutions. This is the best thing I can do and I love to do it.”