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  • Thanks to the latest research into violent expiratory events -

  • or, sneezes -

  • we can now observe in very close detail

  • theturbulent multiphase cloud

  • which distributes a payload

  • of droplets and mucosalivary ligaments,

  • or, well, stringy gobs of spit,

  • at high speeds and over great distances.

  • These gross but engrossing images

  • are made possible by highly sensitive, slow-motion cameras

  • which can track each single speck of snot.

  • This is high-tech stuff, but the fascination with sneezing

  • and the attempt to capture and examine the sneeze

  • is actually as old as the moving image itself.

  • This short film, known as Fred Ott's Sneeze, was recorded in 1894

  • to test a new moving picture machine called the Kinetoscope.

  • This five-second long film,

  • showing Fred Ott taking a pinch of snuff and then sneezing,

  • captured the imagination of a public

  • who were wowed by the idea that something as fast as a sneeze

  • could now be captured, preserved and repeated.

  • Of course, sneezes were also an object of fascination

  • long before the cinema.

  • For the ancient Greeks, sneezes could be an omen from the gods.

  • According to one ancient Roman doctor,

  • sneezing during sex could be used as a contraceptive.

  • But the most common interpretation of a sneeze

  • is probably that you might be getting ill.

  • But it was not until the late 19th Century

  • that the idea that infectious diseases

  • can be caused by microscopic pathogens was introduced.

  • It was this new understanding of how disease is spread,

  • along with the global shock of the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918,

  • that spawned the public health messages that we know today,

  • like, “Coughs and sneezes spread diseases.”

  • It was the development of stroboscopic photography in the 1930s

  • which really brought this message home.

  • This work, led by the MIT researcher Harold Edgerton,

  • used short sharp flashes of light to seemingly freeze time

  • and analyse all sorts of high-speed phenomena,

  • including the humble sneeze.

  • Images like this one helped us to understand the raw power of sneezes,

  • and to think about how we might protect ourselves

  • and those around us.

  • An infectious sneeze can be dangerous at any time.

  • But the prospect of a wave of viral infections

  • was particularly worrying to public health officials in the UK

  • during the Second World War

  • who were keen to protect the health of those working in the war effort.

  • Wartime propaganda made good use of these stroboscopic sneezes

  • to persuade people to cover their mouths and wear masks.

  • The germ mask is a simple way of keeping the germs at bay.

  • Get one and wear it now.

  • In the age of SARS and COVID-19,

  • cutting-edge technology is still being used

  • to try to better capture and visualise

  • the mechanics of the sneeze.

  • Maybe an even fuller understanding of exactly how a sneeze works

  • will help us to use tools like masks and social distancing

  • more effectively in the fight against epidemics.

  • But it's not only researchers who are continuing

  • the long tradition of filming sneezes.

  • A quick search on a video streaming site

  • will bring up homemade footage from vloggers and filmmakers,

  • all capturing these explosive moments for themselves.

  • The image of the sneeze is with us to stay.

  • Yes, it can provide us with useful information,

  • but it can also be a comic punchline, a tool for persuasion,

  • or just a source of fascination.

  • It's something that is common to us all,

  • yet it is also so strange, spontaneous and fast

  • that we never really get to see it.

  • Maybe capturing it on film, repeating it, and slowing it down,

  • gives us a measure of control -

  • or at least the illusion of control - that we can't have in real time.

  • And so in well over a century since Fred Ott's Sneeze,

  • in some respects

  • our viewing habits haven't really changed so much after all.

Thanks to the latest research into violent expiratory events -

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B1 sneeze sneezing fascination fred film capturing

The curious history of filming the sneeze | BBC Ideas

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    Summer posted on 2021/09/16
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