Recent concerns over the possible use of airborne biological particles as weapons of mass destruction have significantly increased the attention that researchers are giving to this threat. The size of these particles, ranging from a fraction of a micrometer to several tens of micrometers, allows them to travel over long distances before settling out of the airstreams carrying these particles. Furthermore, the odd shapes of many of these particles along with uncertainties about their light scattering characteristics make detection and tracking quite a challenge.
In the present paper, results are reported on the visualization of airborne biological particles using two-dimensional particle image velocimetry (PIV). These initial results show the utility of PIV in illuminating and tracking airborne biological particles. A compressed air nebulizer is used to aerosolize the biological particles inside a Plexiglas test section. The biological particles prepared for the nebulizer are first inoculated and cultured onto agar media, gypsum board, and acoustic ceiling tile to achieve an abundant growth of spores. A colloidal suspension of biological particles is then made using sterilized, de-ionized water and a mild surfactant to de-agglomerate the biological particles in the suspension. The concentration of biological particles in the colloidal suspension is determined using a hemacytometer. In the visualization experiments, images are captured for polystyrene latex (PSL) test particles, liquid water droplets, and spores of the fungal species Aspergillus versicolor. During the PIV system operation, two successive images are captured with a time delay of 50 μm to develop flow field velocities of the PSL test particles, liquid water droplets, and the A. versicolor spores.