Ill man in bed surrounded by used tissues

When you think of things that flow, what do you think of? Lava, water, maybe honey or ketchup. Well, SDSU Physics alumnus Antonio Cobarrubia (’19) thought of mucus, a non-Newtonian fluid, and the many unanswered physics questions about how it flows.

As an undergraduate, Cobarrubia collaborated on a capstone research project to better understand the factors that influence the movement of particles, specifically viruses, within mucus. Answering such questions could help biologists design more efficient drugs to target disease-causing particles within mucus.

Just before Thanksgiving, his first-author paper from the project, titled “Empirical and Theoretical Analysis of Particle Diffusion in Mucus”, was published in Frontiers in Physics. Together with two other SDSU Physics alumni, Jarod Tall and Austin Crispin-Smith, Cobarrubia analyzed over 100 published experiments to identify a variable that most consistently predicted the flow of particles in mucus.

What’s underlying this abstract variable? “We have suggested the physical reasons are because of the size of the particle and the mesh structure of mucus,” said Cobarrubia.

In addition to gaining research skills of reviewing literature and analyzing statistical models, Cobarrubia said he also learned valuable lessons from the process of writing the paper, “You definitely need a good figure to lead to a good story.”

Now Cobarrubia is working on his PhD in Computational Science through SDSU’s Computational Science Research Center, studying quantum mechanics and computing.

This project was advised by Antoni Luque, an assistant professor in Mathematics & Statistics, with additional input from Arlette Baljon, associate professor in Physics.