Kavli Institute For Theoretical Physics
The KITP Public Lecture Series

Why Face Masks Work

sponsored by Friends of KITP

COVID-19 and other airborne diseases are transmitted to healthy individuals through the inhalation of pathogen-containing particles exhaled by infectious individuals. Bodenschatz will provide an overview of the physics involved in the formation of these particles and the effects of social distancing and masking on transmission risk. He will present the results of our experimental study characterizing the size distribution of exhaled particles across the particle spectrum of human droplets and aerosols from nanometers to millimeters. This allows us to establish an upper bound on the transmission risk for SARS-CoV-2 from one-to-one exposure. Bodenschatz will demonstrate that wearing appropriate masks in the community provides excellent protection for others and oneself and eliminates the need for social distancing.


Eberhard Bodenschatz received his doctorate in theoretical physics from the University of Bayreuth in 1989. In 1991, during his postdoctoral research at the University of California at Santa Barbara, he received a faculty position in experimental physics at Cornell University. From 1992 until 2005, during his tenure at Cornell, he was a visiting professor at the University of California at San Diego (1999-2000). In 2003, he became Director and Scientific Member at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization. He continues to have close ties to Cornell University, where he is Adjunct Professor of Physics and of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (since 2005). He was chair of the Advisory Board for Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics (2010-2011). He received an honorary doctorate from École Normale Supérieure in 2015 for his work on turbulent flows, is a recipient of the Stanley Corrsin Award of the American Physical Society, is a fellow of the Division of Fluid Dynamics of the American Physical Society, the European Mechanics Society, the European Physics Society, and the Institute of Physics. In addition he is Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow and Cottrell Scholar. He is an elected member of Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, Nationale Akademie der Wissenschaften Leopoldina, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.