For years, scientists thought that most mucus from a sneeze or cough traveled just a few feet. Bourouiba is a physicist who studies how fluids move. She wanted to test this idea. So she developed an experiment.
First, Bourouiba used a small rod to tickle people’s nostrils. This made them sneeze. She recorded the sneezes on video. She watched more than 100 sneezes in slow motion. This allowed her to track how droplets of mucus move through the air.
Bourouiba learned that a cough or sneeze creates a germ-filled cloud.
Mucus droplets in the cloud travel up to 26 feet! The droplets can stay
in the air for up to 10 minutes. This is why it’s so important to cover
your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
Bourouiba hopes others will
use her research to help prevent diseases like the cold and flu from
spreading. “Sharing the excitement of discovery is the best part of the
job,” she says.