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Thomas Ashton Institute for Risk and Regulatory Research

Annual Lane Lecture 2020: Droplets and aerosols – the complex physics of respiratory disease transmission, Professor Cath Noakes

27 October 2020

COVID-19 has presented us with the most difficult healthcare and societal challenge we have faced in living memory. As a new disease we have had to build the knowledge base on every aspect of the virus rapidly over the past 10 months. To understand the mechanisms of transmission we have had to draw on experiences for other respiratory viruses together with the growing evidence based on the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This is critical to being able to implement effective mitigation strategies.

This lecture considered the complex interactions that determine the dispersion, transport and survival of microorganisms in aerosols and droplets, and what this means for respiratory disease transmission including the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Professor Noakes discussed some of the engineering and modelling approaches that can be used to understand mechanisms for transmission and design mitigation strategies, including the interactions between people and the environment, the role of ventilation and the potential application for technologies such as germicidal ultraviolet (GUV) disinfection. The talk considered how research findings may be used to support practice, and where there are knowledge gaps in both understand fundamental processes and the real performance of solutions.

Professor Cath Noakes is a chartered mechanical engineer, with a background in fluid dynamics. Her teaching and research expertise is in building physics and environmental engineering and she leads research into ventilation, indoor air quality and infection control in the built environment.

Her internationally recognised research group carry out experimental and modelling based studies, to explore the transport of airborne pathogens, the influence of indoor airflows and effectiveness of engineering approaches to controlling airborne disease transmission.

Professor Noakes was Director of the Pathogen Control Engineering (PACE) research institute 2010-2014, and Director of Research and Innovation for the School of Civil Engineering 2014-2020. She is currently Deputy Director of Leeds Institute for Fluid Dynamics and Co-Director for the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Fluid Dynamics.  Since April 2020 she has been involved in the UK COVID response, leading a SAGE sub-group focusing on the science underpinning environmental transmission of COVID-19.

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