A new study by MIT researchers shows that the droplets our noses and mouths release during coughs and sneezes can travel much further than previously thought. John Bush, a professor of applied mathematics, and Lydia Bourouiba, an assistant professor in the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, are two of the coauthors on a recent paper, “Violent expiratory events: on coughing and sneezing.” The researchers directly observed sneezing and coughing, and also simulated it in the lab, and found that coughs and sneezes produce “turbulent buoyant momentum puffs,” or respiratory clouds, that can carry potentially infected droplets five to 200 times further than known before. This could mean airborne pathogens are more easily transmitted through ventilation systems and enclosed spaces.
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