Controlling Aerosols Onstage

An orchestra rehearsal in an empty concert hall.

Few industries saw more disruption from the pandemic than the performing arts. To help orchestras return to the concert hall in a way that keeps performers and audience members safe, researchers have simulated air flow and aerosols around musicians onstage. Some instruments — like the trumpet — are super-spreaders when it comes to aerosol production, and, in the conventional organization of orchestras, those aerosols have to travel through other sections of the orchestra before reaching air vents, putting more musicians at risk.

(Upper left) Aerosol concentration for an orchestra performing in their original arrangement, with doors to the hall closed; (Upper right) Aerosol concentration in the modified musician arrangement, with doors open; (Bottom row) Time-averaged aerosol concentration in the breathing zone of performers for (left) the original arrangement and (right) with modified seating.
(Upper row) Aerosol concentration for the orchestra’s original seating arrangement (left) and in the modified arrangement (right). (Bottom row) Time-averaged concentration of aerosol particles in the breathing zone of each musician in the original (left) and modified arrangements (right).

Using Large Eddy Simulation, researchers looked at alternate seating arrangements for the Utah Symphony that could mitigate these risks. By rearranging the musicians so that instruments that produce lots of aerosols are closer to the air vents and open doors, the team reduced the average concentration of aerosols around musicians by a factor of 100, giving the performers a chance to return to the stage far more safely. (Image credit: top – M. Nägeli, simulation – H. Hedworth et al.; research credit: H. Hedworth et al.; via NYTimes; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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