Capturing a Sneeze

Prof. Bourouiba
High-speed video cameras capture the spread of a sneeze or cough in the Bourouiba Lab
Camilla Brinkman

To address the Covid-19 outbreak, MIT has suspended its operations on campus, except for research critical to understanding and limiting the spread of Covid-19.

While continuing to teach MIT students online, the Edgerton Center is pleased to support Associate Professor Lydia Bourouiba in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering with the loan of a high-speed imaging video camera and related equipment. The Phantom v2511 camera (on long-term loan from its manufacturer, Vision Research) is in active use by the Bourouiba Research Group.

Central to understanding how Covid-19 spreads through a community is understanding how far a cough or a sneeze can travel through the air. Bourouiba's experiments have shown that a cough can spread droplets 13 to 16 feet and a sneeze can spread droplets up to 26 feet away, as reported on March 26 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  

To see the movement up close requires a high-speed video camera to capture, at several thousands of frames per second, how fluid droplets as small as five-microns diameter can travel and transmit a pathogen.

Featured in Wired Magazine on March 14th, They Say Coronavirus Isn't Airborne—but It's Definitely Borne By Air , Bourouiba’s Lab has “found that coughs and sneezes, which they call “violent expiratory events” force out a cloud of air that carries droplets of various sizes much further than they would go otherwise. Whereas previous modeling might have suggested that 5-micron droplets can travel only a meter or two—as we’ve heard about the new coronavirus—her work suggests these same droplets can travel up to 8 meters when taking into account the gaseous form of a cough.”

Visit Professor Bourouiba’s website to learn more and watch The Dynamics of Disease Transmission.