An experimental study of respiratory aerosol transport in phantom lung bronchioles.
TL;DR: Lower breathing frequency and higher breath hold time could significantly increase the chances of getting infected with COVID-19 in crowded places.
Abstract: The transport and deposition of micrometer-sized particles in the lung is the primary mechanism for the spread of aerosol borne diseases such as corona virus disease-19 (COVID-19). Considering the current situation, modeling the transport and deposition of drops in human lung bronchioles is of utmost importance to determine their consequences on human health. The current study reports experimental observations on deposition in micro-capillaries, representing distal lung bronchioles, over a wide range of Re that imitates the particle dynamics in the entire lung. The experiment investigated deposition in tubes of diameter ranging from 0.3 mm to 2 mm and over a wide range of Reynolds number (10−2 ⩽ Re ⩽ 103). The range of the tube diameter and Re used in this study is motivated by the dimensions of lung airways and typical breathing flow rates. The aerosol fluid was loaded with boron doped carbon quantum dots as fluorophores. An aerosol plume was generated from this mixture fluid using an ultrasonic nebulizer, producing droplets with 6.5 µm as a mean diameter and over a narrow distribution of sizes. The amount of aerosol deposited on the tube walls was measured using a spectrofluorometer. The experimental results show that dimensionless deposition (δ) varies inversely with the bronchiole aspect ratio ( L ¯ ), with the effect of the Reynolds number (Re) being significant only at low L ¯ . δ also increased with increasing dimensionless bronchiole diameter ( D ¯ ), but it is invariant with the particle size based Reynolds number. We show that δ L ¯ ∼ R e − 2 for 10−2 ⩽ Re ⩽ 1, which is typical of a diffusion dominated regime. For Re ⩾ 1, in the impaction dominated regime, δ L ¯ is shown to be independent of Re. We also show a crossover regime where sedimentation becomes important. The experimental results conclude that lower breathing frequency and higher breath hold time could significantly increase the chances of getting infected with COVID-19 in crowded places.