WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Researchers developing a system that uses mathematical models and sensors to locate passengers releasing hazardous materials or pathogens inside airline cabins have shown that the technique can track a substance to an area the size of a single seat.
The technique might enable officials to identify passengers responsible for the unintentional release of germs, such as contagious viruses, or the intentional release of pathogens or chemical agents in a terrorist attack, said Qingyan (pronounced Chin-Yan) Chen, a professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University.
"The goal is to be able to track the source if a person released a biological agent, such as anthrax, or inadvertently released a pathogen such as pandemic flu by sneezing, for example," he said.
The research is supported by the Air Transportation Center of Excellence for Airline Cabin Environment Research, established by the Federal Aviation Administration. The work aims to improve air quality and safety inside airline cabins.
The inadvertent release of infectious pathogens inside an aircraft is especially dangerous during lengthy international flights, said Chen, who is a principal director of the center. The effort involves an interdisciplinary team of Purdue researchers from chemical and mechanical engineering, physics and chemistry.
The center's Purdue-related research focuses on developing mathematical models for software that will be needed to operate such a tracking system and learning how to precisely place several sensors to accurately trace hazardous airborne materials back to the source.
Research findings are detailed in a paper being published in June in Indoor Air - International Journal of Indoor Environment and Health. The paper was written by Chen and mechanical engineering doctoral student Tengfei Zhang.