Academic journal article Science Scope

Science of Sneezing

Academic journal article Science Scope

Science of Sneezing

Article excerpt

Mark Nicas's job is nothing to sneeze at--he builds mathematical models of how someone else's slobber ends up on you. Nicas's models must account for the size of the particles, whether they come out in a dry cough or a wet sneeze, their evaporation rate, air speed, and other factors to determine the flight of phlegm.

Nicas, whose day job is at the University of California-Berkeley, is one of a team of scientists affiliated with the Center for Advancing Microbial Risk Assessment (CAMRA). "In terms of homeland security, knowing how germs are spread is an important factor in countermeasures for potential biological attacks or pandemics," says Dr. Matthew Clark, director of the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate's (DHS S&T) Office of University Programs, which helps fund Nicas's research.

As an interdisciplinary research hub, CAMRA's goal is to help DHS S&T understand the risks associated with certain biological agents, and build a national network beyond the scientific community for sharing those insights. Statistical predictions about flying saliva may seem like academic caricature, but they have important real-world applications to terrorists biological attacks and deadly diseases like bird flu that can ripple quickly through American cities. …

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