Larry was created by microbiologist Catherine Makison-Booth at the United Kingdom’s Health and Safety Laboratory in the Occupational Hygiene Unit. The lab’s scientists hope this robot can show exactly how the norovirus, which causes violent vomiting, spreads from human to human. Once we know where the puke goes, we can contain the virus better.
Fortunately Larry isn’t full of real human vomit. Instead, Larry is an open-mouthed dummy like the kind medical students use to practice intubations mounted on a five-foot-tall frame. His esophagus is attached to a cylinder filled with water and fluorescent liquid. When it’s go time, the scientists use a special pump to propel the liquid out through Larry’s open mouth, according to ABC News’ Erin McLaughlin.
Once the robot has finished puking, the lab scientists use ultraviolet light to see where the liquid has traveled across a grid on the floor. Larry’s puke goes quite the distance, too, the projectile falling nearly 10 feet from his face. Blarf!
But seriously, the norovirus is bad. In the UK alone more than 880,000 cases have been reported since last summer. The BBC’s Smitha Mundasad pointed to a case in Washington State where a girl at a soccer tournament got sick. Particles containing the virus landed on a reusable grocery bag in her bathroom. Though she had no contact with the bag and left the tournament early, the bag ended up in her team’s hotel room, where it was used to pass around snacks they all ate. You can guess what happened.
As Anthony Carboni pointed out on DNews recently (video), norovirus particles are quite hardy. Once on hard surfaces, it can cause problems for weeks, and if it gets into water the stuff can stick around for months. That’s why we need Larry. He’ll show us the virus particles’ true widespread and nasty path.
The Health and Safety Lab was kind enough to post a YouTube video of Larry puking gloriously in slo-mo for all of us to enjoy. I’m all for anything that prevents me — and others — from ending up covered in our own sick.