During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world witnessed scientists from various disciplines coming together with a single aim – to help combat the spread of the virus. Among these scientists were Christopher Pöhlker, an atmospheric scientist, and his wife Mira, a cloud scientist. Fascinated by the nature of droplet size, a topic relevant to both of their fields, they began delving into the research only to find a lack of studies regarding respiratory droplet size and its relation to airborne disease transmission. This knowledge gap became the driving force behind their research effort and collaboration with other specialists to create a parameterization scheme.
Building the Data Foundation
The first step in the team’s endeavor was to scour existing information on infectious droplet size. To ensure accuracy, they focused on publicly available data that showcased the distribution of droplets by size, their composition, emission patterns, and characteristics. Armed with this foundation of knowledge, the team sought to create a comprehensive classification system that would collate the data and prove useful to medical researchers in their fight against infectious agents.
The team’s parameterization scheme involved establishing a classification system based on different modes of droplet production in various parts of the body. Rather than assigning names, they defined five types of droplets based on their size, ranging from less than 0.2 µm to 130 µm. Each type was associated with specific locations in the body, such as the lungs, mouth, tongue or lips, and the larynx-trachea. By categorizing droplets based on both size and origin, the researchers aimed to provide a more comprehensive understanding of their behavior and potential impact on infection transmission.
While the team’s collating process and parameterization scheme are significant advancements in the study of droplet properties, they acknowledge the necessity for human studies to complete the data collection. The correlation between droplet size and infection potential remains a crucial aspect yet to be explored. By conducting comprehensive human studies, medical researchers will have access to a valuable resource that can aid them in developing effective anti-transmission measures and mitigation strategies against infectious diseases.
Integration of Disciplines
The collaborative effort between atmospheric scientists, chemists, infectious disease specialists, and other experts from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, the Max Planck Institute for Dynamical Systems, the University of Denver, Georg August University, and St. Petersburg State University exemplifies the importance of interdisciplinary cooperation. By bringing together diverse perspectives and expertise, the team was able to create a framework that helps bridge gaps in current knowledge and facilitates the development of innovative strategies to combat infectious diseases.
Beyond its immediate relevance to the COVID-19 pandemic, the collation of droplet properties has broader implications for understanding and combating infectious diseases in general. By comprehensively characterizing droplet size, composition, and emission patterns, medical researchers can gain insights into the potential routes of transmission for various infectious agents. This information can inform the development of targeted interventions, such as improved ventilation systems, face masks, or other protective measures.
As the world grapples with the ongoing threat of infectious diseases, collaborations like the one carried out by the team at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry provide hope. By adopting a holistic approach that integrates knowledge from different fields, researchers can fill critical knowledge gaps and develop effective strategies to combat future outbreaks. The collation of droplet properties is just one example of how interdisciplinary efforts can yield invaluable insights and pave the way for a safer and healthier world.