Scientists have long suspected that people infected with norovirus — a virus that often causes food poisoning — can spread the disease via one of its characteristic symptoms: projectile vomiting. The act of throwing up, the thinking went, could cause virus particles to go airborne, helping it infect tens of millions of Americans each year.
The device includes a quarter-scale replica of a human stomach, esophagus, and mouth. A nozzle shoots out a vomit-like substance — which included a harmless virus standing in for norovirus — inside a sealed Plexiglas box. Then a sensor detects the number of airborne virus particles.
Here's the vomit machine in action, set to a viscosity and pressure that mimics what the researchers call "post-vomit retches":
The group's new paper on the research, published yesterday in PLOS One, found that projectile vomiting indeed launched thousands of viruses into the air — and that more viscous simulated vomit made for more virus particles.
There are many other machines that replicate disgusting human bodily functions
The NC State vomit machine follows in the footsteps of a proud tradition of machines that simulate the activities of the human body as faithfully as possible.
In 2013, British researchers created "Vomiting Larry" — a device that showed how far projectile vomit could spread, part of earlier research into norovirus.
Though it didn't simulate the precise pressure of vomit or allow scientists to measure concentrations of airborne virus particles, it was pretty impressive in its own right:
The SynDaver company, meanwhile, has a created a series of simulated human bodies intended to replace cadavers in medical research and education. They can breathe, bleed, and react to getting cut or experiencing pain — and start at $40,000.
Finally, there's the "Cloaca machine." Though not strictly made for scientific purposes — it was created by Belgian artist Wim Delvoye for "no purpose at all" — it is a biologically accurate model of the human digestive system.
Food gets passed through a series of tanks, which grind it, break it up with digestive juices, and eventually push it out in a feces-like state — much like you do.