Mexican experts analyze respiratory droplets dispersion to design safe ventilation systems

The UNAM study aims to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases in the country

UNAM experts analyze respiratory droplets dispersion to design safe ventilation systems
Workers wearing protective equipment to disinfect public spaces - Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP
English 30/07/2020 11:40 Mexico City Actualizada 13:03

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Due to the gradual return to normal activities, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) is scientifically analyzing the dispersion and course of saliva droplets in public spaces in order to design proper strategies to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases in our country.

To study this phenomenon, engineers from the Biological and Industrial Environmental Flows Unit (UMOFABI) observed spaces that usually gather a high concentration of people, for instance, a subway wagon, a convenience store, and a house, by applying equations and algorithms that reveal the movement of saliva droplets.

Rubén Ávila Rodríguez, from the School of Engineering (FI), explained that when a person sneezes, coughs, or talks, there can be two ways of contagion due to the release of fluids: the emission of saliva droplets and the generation of aerosols, “which, despite not being proved, are produced when said respiratory particles evaporate and remain in the atmosphere transporting the virus in long distances.

“We try to elucidate how the propagation of the virus happens: whether due to the spread of saliva droplets that precipitate and contaminate people and the utensils they use or through the spread of aerosols,” said Ávila Rodríguez.

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The main objective of the mechanic fluids expert’s efforts, who works with a group of UNAM postgraduate students, is to develop basic information and design air conditioning systems and ventilation strategies that help during the health crisis through the use of physics and engineering.

“In order to help keep physical distancing health measures, it’s necessary to perform this kind of study based on physics fundamental principles, whose application translates into engineering,” added the academic in a statement.

All of it is thanks to the contributions from experts of the General Direction of Computing and Information and Communication Technologies (DGTIC) that has guided the team of researchers with the tools of the UNAM’s “Ixtli” Observatory, where experts simulate the course of particles and recreate, with 3D animation, the environment where they are generated.

Ávila said that with the “new normal” and the economic reopening, some productive sectors have opened their doors to the civil society once again, such as the case of work, tourism, or recreational centers, as well as hospitals and shops, so they “must be reopened in semi-confined areas,” that is, to have a 25% to 30% capacity since we are still in an acute phase of the disease.

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“Thanks to its students and researchers, the UNAM can generate this kind of project that provides solutions to the uncertainty regarding this topic that is largely unexplored at a basic level and that intends to help governments in decision making regarding the design of ventilation, air conditioning, and semi-confined spaces highly visited by the public,” asserted the expert.”

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