New lab focuses on human factors in complex, high-tech environments

A visit to campus in Fall 2010 by Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenburger highlighted the need for the work being done in the College of Technology’s new Applied Human Factors Research Laboratory. Sullenberger landed his US Airways Airbus 320 in the Hudson River in January 2009 after he flew through a flock of geese and lost engine power. In his book written after the event, he credits his Purdue education and experience in industrial psychology with helping him in his career and his mission to create safer flying environments. “Captain Sullenberger talked about industrial psychology and the role human behavior plays in work performance,” said Erin Bowen, assistant professor in Technology Leadership & Innovation. “It is really important with something as complex as commercial aircraft. In the lab, we can take issues like fatigue and stress and study them. How do we quantify and measure the impact on performance? One is a safety component, and one is a performance efficiency component.” In the summer of 2010, Bowen helped expand the college’s existing ergonomics lab into a more comprehensive research and teaching space focused on applied human factors. The lab is housed in the Purdue Airport terminal. The research and teaching that occurs in the lab focuses on how human factors affect performance in complex and high-technology environments, such as aviation, manufacturing, or medicine. (Photo: A student researcher from the Human Factors lab (right) takes notes as a flight instructor discusses modifications made to an airplane to allow a person with disabilities to fly it.)