These days wearing a mask to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 disease (caused by the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus) has become second nature. I always understood that coughing was one way viruses were spread. A cough propels water droplets from your lungs into the air and anyone close can inhale them. If your lungs also contain a disease-causing virus, that virus is in the water droplets and if you inhale them, the virus is in you.

A caveat. One virus entity is not enough. One must take a sufficient number of viruses into the lungs, or other suitable host environment, so that the virus can establish itself in sufficient numbers so to cause disease. How many is enough varies with every person.

What was new to me was that just breathing sends tiny water particles, like vapor sort of, drifting into the air. These particles are warm and so they float around for awhile. In a still room, the particles can remain long enough that the next person walking through the room can breath them in, thus acquiring whatever virus might also be riding along in those particles.

We cannot see our breath, except outside on a cold day, when you can see your breath turning into visible vapor. Still, in a warm room, we don’t see our breath floating around or appreciate how it lingers in still air. It occurred to me that an interesting teaching tool could be created in Second Life using the LSL Particles System.

LSL stands for Linden Scripting Language and it is how one adds functionality to objects in SL. The LSL Particles System creates tiny digital objects that behave like RL dust, fireflies, fire, water vapor, etc.

It would be possible to create an avatar animation that produces visible particles as the avatar breathes in and out. With several avatars in a room, you could demonstrate how each avatar moved into the particle fields of the others. This could help to make people more aware of how disease spreads and why mask wearing has become so important.

While SL is not a place where one can catch any diseases, Deepy thinks role modeling good practices is appropriate anywhere.

Another aspect of the diffusion of particles is the rate of air exchange in the room. In a still room, the particles stay around for awhile before settling to the ground (there to wait for someone to pick them up but that’s another issue) or diffusing so much there is no longer a threat of infection. So, a good air conditioning system will exchange the air in a room such that the particles are quickly sucked out of the room and diffused. Filters in the AC system can further filter out bacteria and viruses. So, our particle simulation can include parameters to disperse the particles quickly or slowly and thus demonstrate the utility of efficient air conditioning. Of course, outside the wind blows everything away quickly.

I’m not versed in LSL scripting, so I’m simply tossing out an idea hoping a more creative and skilled person might find this idea useful. If simulations like this already exist, please tell us about it in a comment.


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About Author

Deepy (Deepthinker Oh) is an educational psychologist with a long standing love of journalism and previous experience as the editor of MANIERA magazine. Deepthinker Oh's use of the SLBN logo does not constitute approval by or a representation or endorsement from Linden Lab.

2 comments on “Particles

  • Deepy says:

    This comment is from Dr. Keith Eric Grant (Wordsmith Jarvinen in Second Life). He provides some further discussion of particles and gives an example of disease transmission. Thank you Dr. Grant.

    Infectious particles are emitted from infected humans by talking, singing, sneezing, coughing and forceful breathing. Particles can range from very small to sizable droplets. The larger the droplet the faster its rate of falling out of the air. Air humidity can effect the particles, dry air evaporating particles, making them smaller, and humid air depositing water on the particles making them larger.

    The spread of particles becomes a problem of diffusion from collisions with air molecules, transport with air movement, and fallout. Air movement includes movement from ventilation systems and open windows, plus air swirls from people moving and opening or shutting doors. While originally it was thought that transmission was only by droplets, leading to the two-meter distancing rule, further information strongly indicated there was also transmission by small, air-borne particles.

    Airborne spread of infectious agents in the indoor environment

    Some questions on dispersion of human exhaled droplets in ventilation room: answers from numerical investigation

    Scientific Brief: SARS-CoV-2 and Potential Airborne Transmission,or%20over%20longer%20times.

    “Droplet transmission consists of exposure to larger droplets, smaller droplets, and particles when a person is close to an infected person. Airborne transmission consists of exposure to smaller droplets and particles at greater distances or over longer times”

    A choir decided to go ahead with rehearsal. Now dozens of members have COVID-19 and two are dead

    “After 2½ hours, the singers parted ways at 9 p.m. Nearly three weeks later, 45 have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or ill with the symptoms, at least three have been hospitalized, and two are dead.”

    A systematic review of possible airborne transmission of the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) in the indoor air environment

    “Finally, in addition to the recommendations of the centers and official authorities such as hand washing and observing social distancing, the route of air transmission should also be considered to further protect health personnel, patients in hospitals, and the public in other Public Buildings”

  • There is an online tool which might be sufficient to get an idea about virus spreading in rooms depending on room volume, number or speakers, speak time, kind of masks, … It is based on a study by the Max Plank Institute of Chemistry.
    This article holds 6 of such tools for different rooms, easy to use and understand:
    This is the original tool by the institute, a bit more abstract:

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