Experimental investigation of indoor aerosol dispersion and accumulation in the context of COVID-19: Effects of masks and ventilation

Phys Fluids (1994). 2021 Jul;33(7):073315. doi: 10.1063/5.0057100. Epub 2021 Jul 21.


The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of aerosol dispersion in disease transmission in indoor environments. The present study experimentally investigates the dispersion and build-up of an exhaled aerosol modeled with polydisperse microscopic particles (approximately 1 μm mean diameter) by a seated manikin in a relatively large indoor environment. The aims are to offer quantitative insight into the effect of common face masks and ventilation/air purification, and to provide relevant experimental metrics for modeling and risk assessment. Measurements demonstrate that all tested masks provide protection in the immediate vicinity of the host primarily through the redirection and reduction of expiratory momentum. However, leakages are observed to result in notable decreases in mask efficiency relative to the ideal filtration efficiency of the mask material, even in the case of high-efficiency masks, such as the R95 or KN95. Tests conducted in the far field ( 2 m distance from the subject) capture significant aerosol build-up in the indoor space over a long duration ( 10 h ). A quantitative measure of apparent exhalation filtration efficiency is provided based on experimental data assimilation to a simplified model. The results demonstrate that the apparent exhalation filtration efficiency is significantly lower than the ideal filtration efficiency of the mask material. Nevertheless, high-efficiency masks, such as the KN95, still offer substantially higher apparent filtration efficiencies (60% and 46% for R95 and KN95 masks, respectively) than the more commonly used cloth (10%) and surgical masks (12%), and therefore are still the recommended choice in mitigating airborne disease transmission indoors. The results also suggest that, while higher ventilation capacities are required to fully mitigate aerosol build-up, even relatively low air-change rates ( 2 h - 1 ) lead to lower aerosol build-up compared to the best performing mask in an unventilated space.