The Coronavirus in a Tiny Drop

To better understand the coronavirus's journey from one person to another, a team of 50 scientists has for the first time created an atomic simulation of the coronavirus nestled in a tiny airborne drop of water. From a report: To create the model, the researchers needed one of the world's biggest supercomputers to assemble 1.3 billion atoms and track all their movements down to less than a millionth of a second. This computational tour de force is offering an unprecedented glimpse at how the virus survives in the open air as it spreads to a new host. "Putting a virus in a drop of water has never been done before," said Rommie Amaro, a biologist at the University of California San Diego who led the effort, which was unveiled at the International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis last month. "People have literally never seen what this looks like." How the coronavirus spreads through the air became the subject of fierce debate early in the pandemic. Many scientists championed the traditional view that most of the virus's transmission was made possible by larger drops, often produced in coughs and sneezes. Those droplets can travel only a few feet before falling to the floor. But epidemiological studies showed that people with Covid-19 could infect others at a much greater distance. Even just talking without masks in a poorly ventilated indoor space like a bar, church or classroom was enough to spread the virus. Those findings pointed to much smaller drops, called aerosols, as important vehicles of infection. Scientists define droplets as having a diameter greater than 100 micrometers, or about 4 thousandths of an inch. Aerosols are smaller -- in some cases so small that only a single virus can fit inside them. And thanks to their minuscule size, aerosols can drift in the air for hours.

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