Sneezing might not be the most dainty of bodily functions, but according to a recent study conducted by researchers at MIT, what actually goes on during during a big "achoo!" is a lot more disgusting than what meets the eye. The researchers found that when it comes to a "sneeze spray" - the fluidic aftermath of a sneeze made up of fluids like mucus and saliva, which come from our mouths and lungs - the entire enterprise is more or less a far-reaching snot-and-spit bomb.

The results of the study, which was conducted in collaboration with the National Science Foundation, were gleaned from a series of sneezes that the scientists videotaped with high-speed imaging technology to acutely and precisely capture the trajectory of each droplet of fluid emitted from the study particpants' schnoz-oriented expulsions (roughly 100 recorded in total). They subsequently observed a "surprising" trajectory from some of the sneezers. As described in an official statement released by the universtiy, "some of the subjects [launched] a sheet of fluid that [ballooned]," then dispersed "in long filaments that [destabilized]," after which they cascaded into a drizzle of droplets, "similar to paint that is flung through the air."


The experiment was conducted with the idea of charting fluid dispersal patterns to determine the possible rate and frequency of infection.

"It's important to understand how the process of fluid breakup, or fluid fragmentation, happens," said Lydia Bourouiba, MIT's head of the Fluid Dynamics of Disease Transmission Laboratory and one of the leading scientists on the project. "What is the physics of the breakup telling us in terms of droplet size distribution, and the resulting prediction of the downstream range of contamination?"

The discovery and identification of "super spreaders" might also be able to curb the momentum and ratio of contamination via developed measures to prevent fluid spray from reaching its radial full potential.

"This line of work is opening the way for us to gain insights into the variability between human subjects, and to determine to what extent the breakup process of mucosalivary fluid gives us information on the inner physiology of the host," Bourouiba added.

Sneeze containment research can also help scientists get an idea of how to put an end to patterns of infection and even the spread of devastating epidemics that have been in place for hundreds of years, from the Black Plague of the medieval period to the Zika virus of today.

"The way transmission routes are being quantified even today still rely on the traditional way that has prevailed for hundreds of years, which is talking to people to survey who they talked to, where did they go, et cetera," Bourouiba concluded. "There are clear limits to the accuracy of the data acquired via this process, and we are trying to have more precise measures of contamination and ranges to root disease control and prevention strategies in the physical sciences."

Learn more about MIT's sneeze-centric study in the video clip below.


Source: MIT

Photo: Jeroen | Flickr  

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