Speech is a potent route for viral transmission in the COVID-19 pandemic. Informed mitigation strategies are difficult to develop since no aerosolization mechanism has been visualized yet in the oral cavity. Here we show with high-speed imaging how phonation of common stop consonants, found in most of the world's spoken languages, form and extend salivary filaments in a few milliseconds as moist lips open or when the tongue separates from the teeth. Both saliva viscoelasticity and airflow associated with the plosion of stop consonants are essential for stabilizing and subsequently forming centimeter-scale thin filaments, tens of microns in diameter, that break into speech droplets. Moreover, these plosive consonants induce vortex rings that drive meter-long transport of exhaled air, tying this mechanism to transport associated with speech. We demonstrate that a similar mechanism of aerosolization occurs during the vibration of reeds in wind instruments and may occur during the flapping of the glottis folds. Finally, our research suggests a mitigation of droplet production during speech by using a lip balm.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Computational Mechanics
- Modeling and Simulation
- Fluid Flow and Transfer Processes