Blowin’ in the Wind

U chemical engineers help get the Utah Symphony safely back onstage


The next time the Utah Symphony performs at Abravanel Hall, the seating chart might look a little different. That’s because the wind and brass musicians will be strategically placed to make sure the air and emissions they breathe out are caught in the current of the ventilation system and end up outside.

U chemical engineers James Sutherland and Tony Saad, supported by a team of students, spent most of last summer investigating the potential risk of the emissions from the musicians by first measuring the flow rates through the air vents of the performance venue. They also obtained the air flow measurements of various wind instruments.

Using high-powered computers at the U, the team developed simulations of how air flows through and, ultimately, off the stage via the HVAC system. They also developed a computer model of how emissions from each of the wind instruments—such as trumpets, flutes, oboes, and clarinets—interacted with the air flow from the HVAC system.

“We would look at the results of the simulation and learn that this particular instrument was problematic. Then we would ask where we can move it to mitigate the risk,” says Sutherland. “We would move the musician around, then perform a new simulation.”

Their recommendations also included suggestions to improve the flow dynamics of the HVAC system. Read more about how the team of researchers estimate they can reduce the potential concentration of the virus onstage by more than 100 times.

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