Examining aerosol dynamics of human coughs, sneezes and breathing

Research program: 
Currently recruiting: 
The challenge: 

There is controversy about the spread of respiratory droplets and aerosols, reflected in differing guidelines for respiratory protection between different countries and agencies around the world. This research seeks to improve knowledge of the trajectory of respiratory droplets and aerosols.

The project: 

A range of laboratory experiments are being conducted by the Biosecurity Program at the Kirby Institute, which involve high-speed photography of sneezing and coughing by human participants.

The method: 

The study will utilise experimental flow data of sneezes captured from over a 100 independent sneezes under a variety of ‘real world’ conditions, enabling us to probe a large parameter space to model the extent of droplet spread. We are also designing two-phase computational models of biological aerosols through flow simulations, which in turn will lead to better infection control guidelines and evidence-based principles of safe spatial separation during community physical distancing.

The results: 

Building on an existing collaboration, this project would enable cutting edge cross-disciplinary research in the field of aerobiology and its relevant applications, which include control of respiratory transmission of infection in hospitals and other closed spaces. In particular, this work will lead to the most comprehensive experimental databases of fluid motion of sneezes with over 100 independent samples of sneezes using the latest advancements in experimental flow diagnostic technology. This data will then be utilised to develop detailed flow simulations and modelling under a variety of conditions which include patients with and without personal protective equipment (PPE), and patients in seated and lying down positions, all of which are highly relevant to establishing accurate guidelines and testing the efficacy of PPE.

The impact: 

The research will produce internationally important data to inform spatial separation guidelines for physical distancing, and hospital infection control guidelines for health workers and patients. A paper was published in 2020 in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Project contact: 
Head, Biosecurity Program, and Professor of Global Biosecurity, Kirby Institute and NHMRC Principal Research Fellow
Project collaborators: 
  • Prof Con Doolan
  • Dr Charitha De Silva
  • Dr Abrar Chughtai
  • PhD Student, Prateek Bahl
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