Covid-19: Research image of the year reveals benefits of wearing masks

Scientists in Cork measure brightness of micro-droplets for image entitled Talking Heads

Scientists based in Cork have developed laser-based imaging to illustrate the stark contrast between not wearing a mask and wearing one to prevent spread of Covid-19.

The researchers at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) successfully deployed the technique to measure the brightness of micro-droplets emitted through masks.

They noticed images of exhalation could be powerful and impactful. As a consequence, they recorded a series of individual images which they amalgamated into a single image "to demonstrate the effectiveness of mask-wearing to all". Coronavirus can be transmitted through small airborne droplets emitted when an infected person breathes, speaks or coughs.

The single image, entitled Talking Heads, has been deemed "research image of the year" in the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) 2020 Science Awards.



The SFI-funded research shows particles emitted from the nose and mouth are clearly evident from the unmasked head in both the volume and initial projected distance. Particles from the masked dummy head show significantly reduced forward emissions, but do reveal some vertical leakage, emphasising the importance of properly fitted masks.

The team involved in the project include scientists based at CIT’s Blackrock Castle Observatory and the college’s Centre for Advanced Photonics & Process Analysis.

Team leader Dr Niall Smith, head of research in CIT, said: "It's a lovely example of multidisciplinary research and the value of using fundamental knowledge in a highly applied setting. I'm absolutely thrilled at the result.

“The project is truly multidisciplinary, involving astrophysicists, physicists, optical engineers, designers and biological scientists. It has an aggressive timeline, which should quickly add to the current body of knowledge regarding mask efficacy,” Dr Smith added.

He highlighted the contribution of Dr Steven Darby, Dr Krishnakumar Chullipalliyalil and Danielle Wilcox.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times