Illnesses like COVID-19 can spread through droplets and aerosols produced by coughing, sneezing, or even speaking. New research looks at how regular speech patterns produce a spray of droplets. Researchers found that pronouncing many consonants causes a sheet of saliva to form between the speaker’s lips. That sheet stretches into filaments that then break into a spray of droplets.
Strong, plosive consonants like /p/ and /b/ create the most droplets (Images 2 and 3), but even milder consonants like /m/ create some (Image 1). Interestingly, the researchers found that wearing lip balm drastically decreased droplet production by altering the saliva sheet formation. Even so, there’s no substitute for wearing a properly fitted mask! (Image credits: masks – K. Grabowska, droplets – M. Abkarian and H. Stone; research credit: M. Abkarian and H. Stone; via APS Physics)