STFC's Central Laser Facility will investigate how viruses are spread from person to person

Service Engineering

STFC's Central Laser Facility (CLF) will investigate how viruses are spread from person to person and how this varies in various surroundings and settings. Funded by the UK government under the PROTECT COVID-19 National Core Study, the study will use a complex laser trapping technique to help disclose how viruses ride on airborne droplets.

Led by Manchester University's Professor Neil Bourne, the collaboration will involve teams from the CLF, Public Health England, Diamond Light Source and the Health and Safety Executive with advice from Dstl.

“STFC's Central Laser Facility will investigate how viruses are spread from person to person.“

A possible source of COVID-19 transmission is through the air, carried by aerosol droplets barred by the host through coughing, sneezing or speaking.

The team will focus on aerosol-based transmissions, according to STFC, and will map the behaviour of particles and inactivated viruses within a droplet. These inactivated viruses have the same physical properties as the actual virus but are non-infectious and thus safe for research.

The team's goal is to figure out what happens to the viruses during the droplet's lifetime, including purposely placing the droplets on various surfaces, such as the material in a facemask.

Dr Andy Ward of the CLF will use techniques available at the CLF's Octopus Imaging Facility to achieve these goals, one of which involves using laser beams to levitate a droplet containing inactivated virus particles in mid-air.

Dr Ward stated: “In the past, we have combined our expertise in droplet studies with the fluorescent microscopy and spectroscopy techniques at the CLF Octopus facility to learn more about respiratory therapy, pollution and cloud chemistry. Our combination of techniques will allow us to follow the behaviour of one-hundred-nm particles and viruses within a droplet. We also aim to see where the virus comes to rest when the droplet, for example, evaporates. This will help us to gain a greater insight into how virus interacts with the world around us.”

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