Prof. Profile: Sarah Haines

Sarah Haines is an Assistant Professor who just started teaching with CivMin in January. Before joining U of T, she completed her undergrad, masters and PhD at Ohio State University. We recently connected with her to learn more about her research and why she’s so passionate about what she does.  

How do you like teaching at U of T so far? 

It’s been great! I’ve really been enjoying interacting with the students, so it’s been great. We started off on Zoom, but now we’re back in person, so it’s great to see people’s faces—even behind a mask. 

What’s your research specialty?  

My research specialty is indoor air quality and the indoor microbiome(s). I focus on the microbiology aspect of building science and how that impacts human health. Specifically think about mold growth in homes and how mold and moisture can impact upper respiratory systems. Ultimately, I’m working to make those broader connections between air quality and health outcomes in indoor environments.  

I’m hoping to establish new techniques and technologies to prevent mold growth in homes and provide ways to make sure that we have new, sustainable materials or that we’re using different methods to prevent these harmful exposures indoors.  

One of the interesting tools that I’ve leveraged has been using smartphones as a method to detect different exposures in housing. Theoretically, we could all use an app on our phones to determine exposure or concentrations of microbes or maybe even CO2 concentrations in our homes.

What kind of future research projects are you looking into?  

I’m really passionate solving issues in sustainable housing. Often, we see lots of mold growth and moisture issue in these Indigenous communities and it’s truly a systemic problem. I’m really hoping to be working directly with these communities to establish solutions for these potential harmful exposures. 

Is there something that pushed you in this direction that you’ve taken with your research and your career? 

My grandmother had some upper respiratory issues and it got me thinking about what she might have been exposed to growing up. This got me thinking about the situation in housing communities at socio-economic disadvantage. Now I want to know how we can improve indoor air quality and just housing quality in general.   

What’s the coolest project you ever go to be part of? 

Analyzing space dust! While doing my masters and PhD research, we were in connection with someone at NASA who wanted to send us some “space dust”. I will admit, initially we were so excited thinking it was going to be from Mars or the moon, but it turned out to be just some dust they vacuumed up at the International Space Station. It was still very cool, but a bit of a letdown! We tested it for different micro biological components of bacteria and fungus, as well as particle size, and provided the results to them.

You grew up and did all your schooling in Ohio before moving to Toronto, correct?  

Yes, I grew up in Kirtland, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. What I really loved about growing up there, is that we were close to a city, but I was also close to different farms and rural life. I grew up in a very small town where everyone knew everyone and we went to football games on Friday nights. I was even in the marching band.  

You play the flute, right? 

I started playing in middle school and I was part of the Cleveland Youth Wind Symphony in high school, and I still play today. 

What’s your go-to song? 

I have the sheet music from the ‘Pride and Prejudice’ movie with Keira Knightley. I really enjoy playing songs from that. 

By David Goldberg