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Amir Baniassadi

Marcus Institute for Aging Research | Harvard Medical School

While Amir Beniassadi was getting his Ph.D. in environmental engineering at Arizona State University, he studied simulation after simulation of what would happen in cities like Phoenix if the power went out in the middle of summer. But no matter how much he learned about cooling cities and mitigating heat, he couldn’t help but think about the people inside those hot buildings and what  was happening to them.

So for his postdoc, he switched to studying humans themselves, giving elderly people Oura electronic wearable rings and outfitting their homes with sensors to measure how the temperature affected how they slept and their cognitive ability. 

While Beniassadi had studied heat exposure for six years, he had always been able to afford air conditioning. It wasn’t until his research brought him inside people’s homes that he truly understood.

“I sat with a 93-year-old person inside their home during a July heatwave, and it was unbelievable how hot it was in their home,” he said. “And they were sitting naked and refused to turn their conditioning on because they said, ‘Oh, I want to save on electricity bill.’”

“I had no idea what it means to sit in a room where it’s 90% relative humidity and 90 degrees Fahrenheit … I knew it’s bad. I knew you should avoid it. I knew how to calculate or simulate or prevent predict[ions] in the future. But I didn’t know what it means,” said Beniassadi. 

The empathy and understanding he’s gained since switching from engineering to doing aging research in people’s homes, he said, “helps me do better science.”

— Brittany Trang