Mapping the Invisible Spread of Coronavirus Through Simulations

Apr 15, 2020

While some cities and states are using police to enforce social distancing, a team of scientists and engineers at Canonsburg-based Ansys are hoping to encourage the public to follow safety measures by showing how they work. 

The company created 3D simulations that show how respiratory droplets travel, so people can visualize why distancing measures are so important.

In one simulation, two figures jog together, and a waft of rainbow-colored droplets shows how the coronavirus can travel from one person to another. Ansys principal engineer Marc Horner said the droplets in the simulation are visually larger than they are in reality, so that people can see the effects of social distancing.

“You can’t see where those droplets go, so it’s really hard to appreciate how far apart we should be standing from the people that we’re speaking with,” Horner said.

Another model shows what happens if someone standing near you doesn’t cover their cough. The simulation illustrates how this scenario plays out at 3 feet apart and 6 feet apart, the recommended social distance.

“What we saw in the simulations was that, in fact, if you are 3 feet away, that’s not far enough. Whereas if you’re 6 feet away, there’s enough time for gravity to pull those droplets down to the ground.”

Other simulations demonstrate the difference between properly and improperly fitted masks, and how vaccines are produced. Horner says part of the motivation to create these simulations was to help educate the public, and demonstrate why social distancing is so important.

He hopes that by making the hidden visible, people will better understand, and have a clear mental picture, of how social distancing can keep us healthy.

WESA receives funding from Ansys.