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Physics of COVID-19 Transmission

Learn about the scientific principles behind the airborne transmission of COVID-19, and how quantitative safety guideline may be derived to assess the risk of transmission.

start date
6 weeks
5-10 hrs/wk

About this course

At the beginning of the pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), there was significant public confusion and scientific controversy over the modes of transmission and the most effective methods to protect against them, as reflected in changes in public health guidance from the United States CDC and WHO. Official safety guidelines have initially emphasized surface disinfection and strict social distancing, despite scientific evidence for respiratory aerosol transmission extending well beyond these arbitrary distances.

In this course, we will teach you the scientific principles to quantitatively assess the risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19 in an indoor space based on various factors such as the occupancy, the time spent in the space, the dimensions of the room, the use of face masks, ventilation, air filtration, the respiratory activities involved, and so forth. You will learn how each factor will quantitatively affect the rate of transmission, but most importantly, how these factors interact, which has not been reflected in the dominant safety guidelines throughout the pandemic.

The technical contents and all assessments are accessible to anyone with some general undergraduate-level exposure to STEM, but there are also optional derivations intended for graduate students in STEM. There are also interview videos intended for learners at all levels which assume no particular quantitative scientific knowledge.

What you’ll learn

  • Respiratory pathogens
  • Airborne disease transmission in a well-mixed room
  • Epidemiological models
  • Safety guideline for COVID-19
  • Beyond the well-mixed room


Introductory physics or engineering at the undergraduate level; ODEs (required only for learners interested in completing all assessments)

Who can take this course?

Because of U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) restrictions and other U.S. federal regulations, learners residing in one or more of the following countries or regions will not be able to register for this course: Iran, Cuba, Syria, North Korea and the Crimea, Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic regions of Ukraine.