Professor Catherine Noakes


I am a chartered mechanical engineer, with a background in fluid dynamics. My teaching and research expertise is in building physics and environmental engineering and I lead research into ventilation, indoor air quality and infection control in the built environment. My internationally recognised group carry out experimental and modelling based studies, in particular to explore the transport of airborne pathogens, the influence of indoor airflows and effectiveness of engineering approaches to controlling airborne disease transmission.

I have a BEng (class 1) in Mathematical Engineering (1996) and a PhD  "Slot Exit Flow Phenomena in Industrial Slide-Fed Coating Systems" (2000) both from School of Mechanical Engineering, University of Leeds. From 2000-2002 I worked as a KTP associate on a project to optimise industrial drying of coated products. I joined the School of Civil Engineering in 2002 as a postdoctoral researcher modelling air disinfection systems. I was appointed as a lecturer in 2007 and then promoted to Reader in 2010 and Chair in 2014.

I was Director of the Pathogen Control Engineering (PACE) research institute 2010-2014, and I have been Director of Research and Innovation for the School of Civil Engineering since 2014. I am a member of the management team for the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Fluid Dynamics. I was  Faculty of Engineering Athena Swan Lead 2014-2017 and led a successful Silver Athena Swan submission covering all five schools in the Faculty. I was chair of the University Women at Leeds network 2013-2017, and I am a member of the University Gender Oversight group supporting gender equality actions at an institution level. I have recieved a number of awards and professional recognition:

  • 2016 - University of Leeds, Women of Acheivement Award

  • 2014 - Recipient of IMechE Construction and Building Services Division Prize

  • 2014 - Fellow of Institution of Mechanical Engineers (FIMechE)

  • 2013 - Fellow of Institute of Healthcare Engineering and Estates Management (FIHEEM)


  • Director of Research and Innovation

Research interests

My research interests lie in environmental fluid flow problems, with a strong focus on indoor air quality and investigating the transmission and control of airborne infection in healthcare environments. Recent studies have involved a range of techniques including experimental assessment of bioaerosol dispersion in indoor environments, CFD analysis to model the spread of airborne pathogens and the effectiveness of control devices, and the development of epidemic models that incorporate the influence of the physical environment and the behaviour of people. In addition to this core research I also have interests in mathematical models for water distribution networks and industrial coating and drying processes.

Current projects:

Excising Infection in the Surgical Environment [ExISE] (CoI) 2017-2019, AHRC,  Led by Professor Alan Short, University of Cambridge

The overarching aim of ExISE  is to eliminate airborne acquired Surgical Site Infections (SSI) in operating theatres (OTs), traditionally countered with antibiotics.  ExISE proposes to achieve this aim through the evidence-based reinvention of the actual physical environment in which surgery is practised. Airborne transmission of infection has long been feared, and the post war custom and practice position on its mechanisms has dominated OT design. However SSI is not eliminated in contemporary OTs.
ExISE will search for alternative approaches: its historians of science, art and architecture will research a history of Operating Theatre design, of making 'safe', appropriate environments for surgery within their designers' and patrons' theories and beliefs over some 150 years.  The team will be searching for accompanying evidence for environmental intent to enable meaningful reconstructions of their theatres and environments against the original criteria for success. We will assemble laboratory models and environments from the historical reconstructions of OTs alongside a contemporary 'Ultraclean' OT and will achieve greater understanding of the physical and psychological experience of being in/working in a contemporary OT through interview approaches. We hope to translate these insights into a meaningful critique from which design and redesign leads can be drawn, leading to a radical step change in fundamental approaches to the design of OTs.

Influence of ventilation design on the prevalence of anti-microbial bacteria in homes (CoI) 2017-2019, AHRC, Led by Professor Tim Sharpe Glasgow School of Art.

This project will investigate how contemporary housing design affects the indoor microbiome, and what the effects of this might be on anti-microbial resistance. In the early 19th century, the way that houses were designed led to considerable improvements in public health, largely as a result of improvements in sanitation, but also access to fresh air and sunlight. In recent years however, commercial interests and building legislation have largely dictated design issues. During this time the ways that buildings have been designed and constructed has changed significantly, mainly as a response to issues of climate change. Improved thermal performance and increasing airtightness has been able to isolate the building from the external environment. Whilst this will have benefits in terms of reduced carbon dioxide emissions, lower running costs and better comfort, it is becoming increasingly clear that levels of ventilation, and consequent standards of indoor air quality (IAQ) are reducing and there is emerging evidence that this might have negative health impacts. Whilst there are a number of dimensions to IAQ, one area that has not been researched is the prevalence and nature of microorganisms. People - especially vulnerable groups such as the old and very young - spend a great deal of time in the home, and so any change to the indoor microbiome may significantly affect occupants' health. There is a concern that isolation from the outside environment may reduce diversity and result in proliferation of harmful microorganisms, including those that have anti-microbial resistance. This study aims to close this gap in knowledge by undertaking an assessment of contemporary housing to determine the ventilation characteristics and relate this to the presence and nature of microorganisms in the home, with the specific aim of identifying factors that would impact on the presence and proliferation of anti-microbial resistant microorganisms.

A Framework for Assessing the Effect of Indoor Residential Thermal Environment on Occupant Health and Comfort in Nigeria 2017-2018, MRF,  AREF fellowship supporting visiting researcher Dr Akande

Within the built environment, the influence of buildings on human health is a significant area where research efforts are greatly required. It is recognised that relationship exists between health and buildings; yet, little is known about the health and valuing healthy residential buildings. This study aims to quantify factors in naturally ventilated residential indoor environment, promoting the spread of infectious diseases with a view to develop new approaches to tackle this neglected area. The fellowship also builds new collaborations between researchers in Nigeria and Leeds.

A summary of Dr Akande's fellowship is available at:

Targeting airborne bacterial infection: Studies on patient- and laboratory-generated mycobacterium tuberculosis aerosols (CoI), 2017-2019, MRC,  Led by Professor Mike Barer, Leicester University, collaboration with Public Health England and researchers in Pretoria.

Globally, tuberculosis (TB) is the single most important cause of death and disease due to a bacterial agent.  In spite of the importance of aerosols in transmitting infection we have very little information on the biological properties that bacteria need to be transmitted by this route. In this project we characterise the CASS patient cough sampling approach and a laboratory aerosol generation and sampling system, and use both to answer four questions: 1) is the TB aerosol more than just a simple sample of the mucus secretions (sputum) patients cough-up (sputum analysis has traditionally been used to assess infectiousness); 2) how does survival and gene expression of Mtb change with time and ambient conditions in laboratory aerosols; 3) which of Mtb's genes make important contributions to the bacterium's survival and transfer in aerosol; and 4) are the numbers of Mtb bacilli in aerosols underrepresented by standard agar culture methods?

HECOIRA: Healthcare Environment Control, Optimisation and Infection Risk Assessment (PI), 2017-2021, EPSRC Healthcare Impact Partnership in collaboration with two NHS trusts and two industry partners

A major barrier to delivering good patient environments is having usable tools to assess risks and adapt the environment and operations in a responsive manner. Current tools for designing and operating healthcare buildings and selecting technology are good at modelling energy, but are very limited from a health and infection control perspective. Our previous research developed new methods for modelling hospital environments and their influence on infection risk. In this project we aim to build on these approaches to develop and test novel computational based tools to assess, monitor and control real patient environments in hospitals for infection control, comort and well-being. We will develop and couple models of physical, environmental, microbial and human parameters together with environmental sensor data to build new tools to dynamically model hospital environments. 

Low Energy Ventilation Network (Co-PI), 2017-2020, EPSRC UK Fluids Network Special Interest Group, co-lead with Dr Henry Burridge, Imperial College

LEVN is a group of academic researchers, industrial practitioners and students seeking to set the research agenda for the future of building ventilation. Our aim is to develop, and enable, ventilation strategies for modern buildings that provide improved thermal comfort and better air quality for occupants whilst consuming less energy. 

Network website:

Refresh: Remodeling Building Design Sustainability from a Human Centered Approach (Co-PI) 2013-2018, EPSRC, collaborators: Janet Barlow, University of Reading, mc schraefel, University of Southampton

The goals of the Refresh project are to put the human at the centre of building performance and to develop new measures and models that better capture the complexity of these interactions. The project is measuring the *dynamic* changes in and around the local environment on human performance in that environment. These measures will give us ways to create new models of building environments that in turn will be available to help inform policy for building quality that takes human wellbeing in these environments into account. These models will also help us to design new kinds of environmental interaction tools.

Project website:

Completed projects:

EMIT: Evaluating Modes of Influenza Transmission using a Human Challenge Model (Co-I) 2011-2013, Funder: CDC

Collaborative programme to evaluate whether influenza is droplet or airborne transmission, with multiple partners including Nottingham University (Prof J Van Tam), Maryland (Prof D Milton), Wake Forest (Dr W Bischoff), Retroscreen Virology Ltd, BSRIA Ltd.

Integrated hospital ward design for a safe and sustainable patient environment (PI) 2009-2014), Funder: EPSRC Challenging Engineering award.

Project supports two postdoctoral researchers for 5 years and 3 PhD students. Collaborators include University of Cambridge (Prof A Woods), Bradford Hospital, Arup Ltd. Key achievements include study of airflows in Nightingale wards, application of optimisation techniques to ventilation design and thermal comfort, development of novel real-time flow modelling tools, assessment of the dispersion of particles in indoor environments, model to quantify the risks associated with single versus multi-bed wards and experimental study of contaminant transport in hospital corridors.

Design and Delivery of Robust Hospitals Environments in a Changing Climate (Co-I) 2009-2013, Funder: EPSRC

Multi-partner project led by Cambridge University involving four academic partners (Cambridge, Leeds, Loughborough, Open University) and four NHS hospital trusts. Project assessed the energy and overheating risk in hospital environments considering architectural, engineering, infection control and human behaviour aspects, and proposed approaches for increasing the resilience of the UK hospital estate

VASTNet (PI), KTP (2008-2011, ), follow on funding Yorkshire Water (2011-2013).

Collaboration with Innovation Delivery Team at Yorkshire Water to develop new network modelling and visualisation approaches. Project developed software tools to quantify network resilence at large scale and autogenerate network schematics.

Development of Computational Models to Design Upper Room Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation Air Disinfection Systems in Hospital Environments (PI) 2009-2012, Funder: EPSRC

Project modelling the performance of upper room UVGI devices to understand how they should best be implemented in indoor environments. Results include CFD models for upper-room UV devices, application to naturally ventilated multi-bed wards and development of ward-level analytical models for assessing UV performance.

Design and Performance of Isolation rooms (Leeds PI) 2008-2011, Funder: Department of Health

Research programme conducted in collaboration with Malcolm Thomas, BSRIA Ltd and Department of Health to assess the performance of PPVL isolation room design. Outcomes led to new guidance for DH.

Professional memberships

  • FIMechE

Student education

I teach on Building Physics modules at level 2, 3 and 4 . I also teach on MSc modules on Indoor Air Quality.

Research groups and institutes

  • Institute for Public Health and Environmental Engineering
  • Institute for Resilient Infrastructure