Feeds

Bill Gates drops $1m on laser-based malaria fighter

Mosquitoes repelled by 'light wall'

A new approach to endpoint data protection

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded a $1m grant to an astrophysicist developing a laser-based solution to a decidedly terrestrial problem: malaria-spreading mosquitoes.

"I wanted to apply my astrophysics, optics, laser expertise towards some humanitarian goal that can help people," says Columbia University associate professor Szabolcs Márka in video outlining his laser "light wall".

"I had this idea that maybe that optics and light can repell or affect insects, and maybe that can be used to eradicate malaria."

Márka – whose day job involves investigating what happens when two black holes merge – had the bright idea several years back that light could be used to confuse mosquitoes by interfering with their sensory systems.

Working with his wife ZsuZsa Márka and colleague Imre Bartos, he refined his approach to creating a laser-produced barrier – a light wall.

Laser-based 'light wall' repels mosquitoes

Exactly how the 'light wall' works isn't known – but mosquitoes won't cross it

"We stumbled on this," Márka said in a Columbia Technology Ventures discussion of his work. "If you have an invisible wall of light, how will mosquitoes and fruit flies react? They do walk or fly into it. Then they turn back. They don't want to cross it."

The Gates Foundation awarded $100,000 to Márka and his team in 2008. The light wall work apparently has impressed the Foundation mightily, as it has now added another $1m to support the work, making the mosquito repellant idea only one of five follow-up grants in in the Foundation's Grand Challenges program.

The eradication of malaria is a primary goal of the Gates Foundation. As their website notes, nearly one million people a year die of the disease – 90 per cent of them in Africa – and 85 per cent of the victims are children under five years of age.

Márka's method shows promise – a sufficiently large array, for example, could cost-effectively protect a large area, or a conical light wall could protect a family's shared sleeping area.

But exactly why the light wall works, Márka doesn't know.

"The mosquitoes are probably scared," Márka explains – though he doesn't expand on the psychological mechanism of fear in a being as rudimentary as the malaria-carrying Anopheles gambiae. "They could go through the light barrier without getting hurt, but they don't," he says.

He also seems to have more sympathy for mosquitoes than the little blood-suckers have for their prey. "That’s the beauty of it because you don't have to necessarily kill them," he says. "You just make them go away." ®

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Brit amateur payload set to complete full circle around PLANET EARTH
Ultralight solar radio tracker in glorious 25,000km almost-space odyssey
Boffins spot weirder quantum capers as neutrons take the high road, spin takes the low
Cheshire cat effect see neutrons and their properties walk different paths
NASA Mars rover FINALLY equals 1973 Soviet benchmark
Yet to surpass ancient Greek one, however
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
prev story

Whitepapers

7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration
Avoid the typical headaches of OS migration during your next project by learning about 7 elements of radically simple OS migration.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
A new approach to endpoint data protection
What is the best way to ensure comprehensive visibility, management, and control of information on both company-owned and employee-owned devices?