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How Far Can Your Sneeze Go?

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2 reviews

Summary

Active Time
10-20 minutes
Total Project Time
10-20 minutes
Key Concepts
Health, disease transmission, hygiene
Credits
Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies
How Far Can a Sneeze Go?

Introduction

Do you cover your coughs and sneezes? How far do you think the droplets can travel if you do not cover them? Why is this important to help prevent the spread of diseases like COVID-19? Try this activity to find out!

This activity is not recommended for use as a science fair project. Good science fair projects have a stronger focus on controlling variables, taking accurate measurements, and analyzing data. To find a science fair project that is just right for you, browse our library of over 1,200 Science Fair Project Ideas or use the Topic Selection Wizard to get a personalized project recommendation.

Materials

  • Spray bottle
  • Water
  • Newspaper
    Materials for spray bottle sneeze STEM activity

Prep Work

  1. If you are re-using a spray bottle filled with cleaning fluid, have an adult thoroughly rinse it out before you start the activity.

Instructions

  1. Fill the spray bottle with water.
  2. Cover the floor with newspaper.

    A wood floor covered in a grid of newspaper.
  3. Hold the spray bottle above the newspaper.
    Think about:
    How far do you think the water droplets will travel when you spray?

    Spray bottle being held above the newspaper on the floor.
  4. Squeeze the handle a few times.
    Think about:
    Can you see how far the droplets go?
  5. Continue spraying water until the newspaper is visibly damp.
    Think about:
    Does your "sneeze" go as far as you expected it to?

    Newspaper with a wet spot several feet in diameter in front of the bottle.
  6. Try to stop the sneeze from spreading.
    Think about:
    What happens if you cover the bottle's nozzle with a tissue or your elbow?

    Spray bottle with the nozzle covered by a tissue.
Think about:
Why do you think the CDC recommends staying at least 6 feet away from someone who is coughing or sneezing?

Cleanup

Let the newspaper dry before recycling it. Wipe up any remaining wet spots on the floor with a towel.

What Happened?

If you only spray the bottle a few times, you might not think the water travels that far. The mist created by the bottle is very fine, and hard to see in the air. A small amount of water also does not get the newspaper very wet. However, as you spray more and more water, the newspaper will start to get soaked, and turn a darker gray. Once the newspaper gets wet enough, you can see that the droplets of water actually travel several feet! Read the Digging Deeper section to learn more.

Digging Deeper

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 spreads primarily through "people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet)" and "through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes." This can also be true for other infectious diseases like the flu and common cold. This is why good hygiene practices like thoroughly washing your hands and covering your coughs/sneezes are very important to help prevent the spread of disease. With coughing and sneezing, some of the droplets you produce can be too small to see, so it is not obvious how easily and how far they can spread! This activity gives you a way to visualize how far the droplets can spread by looking at the damp newspaper.

Watch this video to learn more about the science behind sneezes:
Video: Studying the Sneeze
icon scientific method

Ask an Expert

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For Further Exploration

  • What happens if you sneeze "harder" by squeezing the bottle's handle faster?
  • How do your results change if you change the height of the bottle above the ground? Try standing up and holding it at face level.
  • What happens if you do the experiment in a room with air currents? Try opening some windows or turning on a fan.

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