Rio grad Linsey Marr explains the science of virus spread to TV news viewers nationwide

Rio alum has become a leading science expert in the media on virus transmission

Ajeeth Iyer, Staff Writer

More than half a million deaths later, Dr. Linsey Marr is still in front of her computer, answering questions about COVID-19 for yet another media interview. Since the start of the pandemic, Dr. Marr has tirelessly worked to inform the public by doing over 400 such interviews.

“[They] have taken over my life,” she said. Despite all of this, Marr has undertaken these time-consuming efforts to keep people safe.

Marr’s penchant for science began at a young age; as a small child, she enjoyed learning from educational programs, including her favorite science show 3-2-1 Contact. However, her appetite for science and engineering was ignited only after she began attending Rio Americano High School. “I was definitely a nerd,” she said. “I loved all my math and science classes.” While in school, she gained a vital “grounding in both science and technological subjects,” which helped her gain acceptance into Harvard University, UC Berkeley, and MIT. 

After completing her postdoctoral work, Dr. Marr joined Virginia Tech as a professor of engineering, researching and teaching the subject of aerosol science  — a science that was, until now, relatively unheard of.

Her entry into aerosol science is a testament to her inquisitive and self-starter nature. Twelve years ago, when Marr was picking up her son from daycare, she realized that he was consistently getting sick with minor illnesses. Being the innately curious scientist that she is, Dr. Marr tried to figure out why her son was falling sick so frequently.

“When I went to the daycare, I found out that more than half the kids there were sick too,” said  Marr.

Consequently, Marr believed that the reason so many children were falling sick was because the virus was traveling through the air.

“At the time, all of this was conjecture, of course,” she said.

Nevertheless, this first encounter with the daycare virus led to a burning passion to know more about airborne disease transmission, which eventually led to her career in the dynamics of bioaerosols and her expertise on air quality and the transmission of viruses. “I realized how little we actually knew about airborne transmission,” she said. “So I started to focus on this area of research.”

Then, early in the year 2020, the pandemic rocked the world. With it, Marr’s rare expertise became widely sought after.

“Only about five other people in the world had the necessary expertise for a situation like this,” said Marr.

Her research concerning the pandemic includes the efficacy of different mask types and Brownian Motion, the movement of a virus through the air. Additionally, she finds solutions to everyday pandemic problems, such as using mathematics to calculate the safest way to hug someone and how people can safely return to the gym.

With this extensive knowledge of nanoparticles and the airborne transmission of viruses, Dr. Marr has become the foremost expert for several media outlets. On top of that, she currently advises major health institutions, like the C.D.C., W.H.O., and the White House Coronavirus Task Force. In Marr’s words, “it’s been totally crazy.”

Beyond being a reliable source of information for the press about COVID-19,  Marr also has to juggle her responsibilities as a professor at Virginia Tech. Day-to-day, she helps her graduate students with research proposals and speeches, works on ongoing research projects, and responds to numerous emails. The pandemic has even taken a toll on this aspect of her life as well.

“Because of the pandemic, I have not been able to fully focus on teaching and helping my students,” she said. “I wish I had the time to help them more.”

Fiercely intelligent, Marr has made great contributions to fighting the “invisible enemy.” She is admirably direct and highly persuasive due in part to her clear manner of speaking. Enduring the challenges of the pandemic while also relentlessly working to keep the public safe, Marr should be a source of inspiration to us all. Her message: “Find out what you are curious about and pursue it.”