Research

Turbulent Puffs

A simulation of the turbulent puff following a cough. Note the many different scales of the turbulence.

When a burst of air gets expelled into still surroundings — like when a person coughs — it forms a turbulent puff like the one seen here. Puffs can be surprisingly long-lasting, though these miniature clouds slow down and expand over time. How they behave is critical to understanding the spread of pollution as well as how respiratory illnesses like COVID-19 travel. In this study, researchers found that buoyancy is also a critical factor. When the puff is warmer than its surroundings, it rises higher, lasts longer, and travels further. That might help explain why respiratory illnesses like the flu spread more readily in the winter than in warmer months. (Image and research credit: A. Mazzino and M. Rosti; via Physics World; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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