Breakthrough: Connecting The Drops

Bacteria and viruses hitch a ride inside droplets of all kinds—sneezes, raindrops, toilet splatter. By reviewing footage of different types of drops, applied mathematician Lydia Bourouiba records and measures where they disperse in order to better understand how diseases spread. Watch how Bourouiba designs tests—some inescapably humorous and awkward—to study infectious disease transmission.

Publications References:

  • Bourouiba, L. (2016) A Sneeze. New England Journal of Medicine. 357(8):e15.
  • Wang, Y. and Bourouiba, L. (2016) Drop impact on small surfaces: thickness and velocity profiles of the expanding sheet in the air. Journal of Fluid Mechanics. 814:510-534.
  • Gilet, T. and Bourouiba, L. (2015) Fluid fragmentation shapes rain-induced foliar disease transmission. Journal of the Royal Society Interface. 12:20141092.
  • Gilet, T. and Bourouiba, L. (2014) Rain-induced ejection of pathogens from leaves: revisiting the mechanism of splash-on-film using high-speed visualization. Integrative and Comparative Biology. 54:974–984.
  • Bourouiba, L., Dehandschoewercker, E., and Bush, J. W. M. (2014) Violent respiratory events: on coughing and sneezing. Journal of Fluid Mechanics. 745: 537-563.
  • Scharfman, B. E., Techet, A. H., Bush, J. W. M. and Bourouiba, L. (2016) Visualization of sneeze ejecta: steps of fluid fragmentation leading to respiratory droplets. Experiments in Fluids. 57:24–1-9


A film by Science Friday

Produced in collaboration with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Produced and Directed by Emily V. Driscoll and Luke Groskin

Filmed by Luke Groskin

Editing and Animations by Jason Drakeford

Music by Audio Network

Additional Photos and Video by
Lydia Bourouiba,  Yongji Wang, Tristan Gilet, Sophie Lejeune, Claire Lu, and Eline Dehandschoewercker
Alamy, Pond5, Shutterstock

Project Advisors:
Laura A. Helft, Laura Bonetta, Dennis W.C. Liu and Sean B. Carroll –  Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Special Thanks to:
Lydia Bourouiba, Christian Skotte, Danielle Dana,  Ariel Zych, Jennfier Fenwick, Timothee Jamin, Stephane Poulain, and Maxime Inizan

Meet the Producers

About Emily Driscoll

Emily Driscoll is a science documentary producer in New York, New York. Her production company is BonSci Films.

About Luke Groskin

Luke Groskin is Science Friday’s video producer. He’s on a mission to make you love spiders and other odd creatures.