Simulation Explains How A Sneezing Person in an Airplane Can Make You Sick

One of the leading commercially available simulation software from ANSYS helps in determining the fluid flow behavior for various engineering applications. Engineers utilize these simulation tools to optimize aircraft wings for optimum lift and drag in the air, or improve the performance by reducing aircraft weight.

However, the ability to predict the air flow through aerodynamic analysis is also helpful in determining the spread of flu in a contained space. A recent video posted by Popular Science in collaboration with ANSYS, reveals one such simulation performed for a typical aircraft cabin and shows why it is better to sit far away from a passenger who is sick and sneezing.

The video shows how influenza particles can travel in a pressurized airplane cabin performed using simulation software from ANSYS. The colored particles are meant to show how the stuff spreads inside the cabin. "Those droplets get picked up by the airflow and get transplanted all over the cabin. They actually spread quite far," says Robert Harwood, aerospace and defense industry director for ANSYS.

The flu is an airborne pathogen and you can easily catch it when one sneezes. Alone in the US, flu affects millions of Americans and causes up to 49,000 deaths. Figuring out the spreading of flu particles on airplanes has also been a major concern for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) since the SARS outbreak.

The outbreak led to the development of Centers for Excellence for Airline Cabin Environment Research, dealing with the health and safety of the passengers in the airplane.

Several new technologies have been employed, such as cab in sensor systems and contamination mitigation technology to track pathogens. As such for years, scientists at the FAA’s Center for Excellence at Purdue University have been utilizing ANSYS simulations to study the mechanics of pathogen movements inside pressurized cabins.

However, creating an airflow simulation model inside the cabin is highly complex. "Every two minutes, there’s a whole new set of air in the aircraft," says Hardwood.

To ensure that the air flow model is accurate, the researchers have considered everything that impacts the air flow velocity and its direction from air conditioning nozzle positioning to flow currents created by flight attendants.

Considering these variables, scientists have been able to create multiple scenarios to determine how germs and contaminants spread inside the airplane cabin. Airlines are consistently trying to combat such scenarios apart from trimming the costs by reducing the aircraft weight.

About Author:

Mehul Patel specializes in handling CFD projects for Automobile, Aerospace, Oil and Gas and building HVAC sectors. He works as a CFD consultant with Hi-Tech CFD for the past 5 years and has successfully executed numerous CFD projects of high complexities. He is an expert in turbo-machinery, gas dynamics, Combustion, Fluid Dynamics, multiphase flow analysis, computational fluid dynamics etc.

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