Aerosol Particle Concentration and Airflow Imaging During Vocalization and Wind Instrument Playing

Early in the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, it was unknown about how the virus could spread in the air. Case studies have shown that it indeed can attach to small airborne particles and possibly transmit from one individual to others through the air. This has significant implications for musical activities which involved deep breathing and expulsion of large volumes of air, such as singing and wind instrument playing.

The West Point Music Research Center is partnering with the Photonics Research Center of Excellence to study the characteristics of airflow during musical activity. The team is also studying the effect of musical activity on the ultra fine particle (<1 micron) concentration in real-world environments.

Interdisciplinary collaboration is a hallmark of the United States Military Academy. Through the pooling of resources and expertise from various areas, new innovations are discovered for the United States Army and the broader national community.


Risk mitigation measures such as physical distancing, plexiglass shielding, and increasing interior air volume have been implemented by musical groups to minimize airborne particle transmission. This study will help to determine the effectiveness of such measures and add to the body of knowledge being created by many other universities. It will inform the decision-making process to further reduce the risk of airborne particle transmission

Thermal Imaging is used to determine change in temperature of the participant and instruments.

Schlieren High-Speed Video is used to visualize air density changes and the resultant air plume.

A Condensation Particle Counter is used to measure background ultra-fine particle concentrations before, during, and after the music protocol.

A 24” Aerospace-grade Convex Mirror was generously loaned to the study by Mr. Thomas Heydenburg, Manager of Optical Engineering, Danbury Mission Technologies.

Photonics Research Center

The Photonics Research Center was established at the United States Military Academy, in May of 1987 through a Memorandum of Understanding between the Superintendent of the United States Military Academy and the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army.

The Center's three principle missions focus on education of both cadets and officers, the conduct of basic and applied research, and support to the Army and DoD in the area of lasers and photonics.

Click here to learn more about the Photonics Research Center.

West Point Music Research Center

Established in 2018, the West Point Music Research Center (WPMRC) conducts research on behalf of the United States Military Academy (USMA), the United States Army, and the Department of Defense.

Music permeates every aspect of daily life. It has significant and lasting effects on individuals and communities, including health and wellness, readiness and resilience, economic influence, community building, cultural and national identity, and diplomacy.

The Center is committed to enhancing cadet education, faculty development, and the Army mission through the lens of music, sound, and their far-reaching effects. The Center supports cadet projects, conducts research, compiles related literature, and facilitates workshops, lectures, and experiences, to be the preeminent center in this area of research.