University of Cambridge > > Cambridge Philosophical Society > G I TAYLOR LECTURE - Waves in the airways: a carpet of microscopic rowers keeps us alive

G I TAYLOR LECTURE - Waves in the airways: a carpet of microscopic rowers keeps us alive

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We can breathe in dusty environments, without choking, and we are not infected by the vast fraction of bacteria that we inhale in a typical day. This is thanks to a carpet of microscopic moving filaments that lines our airways, the cilia. This carpet keeps a constantly refreshed clean layer of fluid,commonly known as the mucus, in motion. We cough, sometimes, as a response to cilia not working properly, which can be a result of an infection. Some people have severe diseases that permanently affect this important function. Why do we look at this in the Physics Department? Even in healthy people, it is not clear how the cilia manage to coordinate their beating.Coordination is essential, imagine the difference a good cos can make to a rowing crew. The cilia manage, spontaneously, to coordinate over a scale of millions of individual filaments, to form long range waves of rowers. We need an understanding of the physics of synchronisation, together with fluid dynamics, and knowledge from cell biology,to piece this puzzle together.

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