Aalto University, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and the University of Helsinki have brought together a multidisciplinary group of researchers to model how the extremely small droplets that leave the respiratory tract when coughing, sneezing or talking are transported in air currents. These droplets can carry pathogens such as coronaviruses. The researchers will also use existing information to determine whether the coronavirus could survive in the air.
Dozens of researchers are involved, ranging from fluid dynamics physicists to specialists in virology, medical technology and infectious diseases. The project was launched based on a proposal put forward by Janne Kuusela, Chief Physician at the Essote Emergency Clinic run by the South Savo Joint Authority for Social and Health Services.
For the modelling work, the researchers are using a supercomputer that CSC - Finnish IT Center for Science Ltd has made available at very short notice.
'Under normal conditions, researchers may have to queue for many days to start their simulations on CSC machines. There is no time for that now, so instead, we are permitted exceptionally to start straight away', says Aalto University Assistant Professor Ville Vuorinen, who is leading the cooperative project.
The project will model the coughing of a person moving around indoors
The division of work for the project is clear. Aalto University, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and the Finnish Meteorological Institute will carry out the 3D airflow modelling together with the droplet motion. The task of the virology and infectious diseases specialists is to analyse the implications of the models for coronavirus infections. The research group is working closely with the physicians at Essote and infectious diseases specialists from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare.
The first situation to be simulated is that of a person coughing in an indoor environment. The boundary conditions, such as the air velocity, are specified in order to ensure that the different models produced are comparable and that it is possible, for example, to assess the necessary safety distances between people.
'One aim is to find out how quickly the virus concentrations dilute in the air in various airflow situations that could arise in places such as a grocery store', says Vuorinen.
'Visualising the invisible movements of viral particles is very important in order to better understand the spreading of infectious diseases and the different phenomena related to this, both now and in the future', he adds.
Researchers believe that the high computing capacity and close, multidisciplinary cooperation will mean that the first results will be obtained already in the next few weeks.
'I fully encourage other researchers to do research on the coronavirus epidemic as it is really time to roll up the sleeves. Within the space of just a few hours, we have put a team together and started research immediately', says Vuorinen