Feeds

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

Mosquitoes repelled by 'light wall'

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

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." ®

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Gigantic toothless 'DRAGONS' dominated Earth's early skies
Gummy pterosaurs outlived toothy competitors
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
TRIANGULAR orbits will help Rosetta to get up close with Comet 67P
Probe will be just 10km from Space Duck in October
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
'Leccy racer whacks petrols in Oz race
ELMOFO rakes in two wins in sanctioned race
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
NASA's rock'n'roll shock: ROLLING STONE FOUND ON MARS
No sign of Ziggy Stardust and his band
Why your mum was WRONG about whiffy tattooed people
They're a future source of RENEWABLE ENERGY
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
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.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.