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Scientists Shoots Lasers at Mosquitoes

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 36 comments

When rocket scientists shoot lasers at mosquitoes, does it mean they're bored and inhumane? No, it means that they can build lasers using parts bought off eBay... all in the name of battling malaria.

It's certainly sad to imagine that the over-the-top, highly touted Star Wars space defense system of the 1980's--also dubbed as the Strategic Defense Initiative by Ronald Regan himself--has been reduced to mere bug smashing (or, in this case, bug disintegration). But that is exactly what is going on in a Seattle lab led by astrophysicist Lowell Wood: using lasers to zap mosquitoes. His efforts aren't malicious, at least not on a public level even though he probably wouldn't think twice about smashing one biting his neck. Dr. Wood previously worked with Edward Teller, the notorious father of the hydrogen bomb and the mastermind behind the Cold War's now-defunct Star Wars plan.

Now reborn as a "bug killer," the laser system came at the request of former Microsoft executive Nathan Myhrvold who now runs Intellectual Ventures LLC. According to Myhrvold, Bill Gates approached him for help in exploring ways to combat malaria. Thus, in a brainstorming session, Dr. Wood suggested using lasers to zap the plagued bugs. Once all parties agreed, Dr. Jordin Kare, an astrophysicist who once worked at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and another Star Wars scientist jumped on board. An entomologist with a PhD in mosquito behavior and other experts joined the team as well, and eventually the new team killed their first mosquito in early 2008 using a hand-held laser built from parts bought on eBay.

"We like to think back then we made some contribution to the ending of the Cold War with the Star Wars program," Dr. Kare told the Wall Street Journal. "Now we're just trying to make a dent in a war that's actually gone on a lot longer and claimed a lot more lives."

Apparently no mosquitoes have come into harm save for a few initial sacrifices... yet. The current experiments consist of a harmless beam that only pinpoints the insects from a contraption 100 feet away. Eventually the scientists want to see houses or villages barricaded in a laser net that would either blind or kill the mosquitoes. In fact, they even envision drone aircraft equipped with laser turrets that will shoot down the pesky bugs from above with "death dealing protons."

But the problem the scientists currently face is just how strong to make the laser. After all, mosquitoes aren't the only inhabitants in the air: there are butterflies, bees, parachuting humans and other useful bugs. Needless to say, shooting down a flock of seagulls (birds or the 80's synth band) would probably be a bad thing. And even though the scientists haven't figured out the right dosage of power, the laser can actually determine whether the mosquito is male or female. This is crucial, as it is the female mosquito that sucks the blood and transmits malaria; the male simply consumes sugary plant nectar, thus has a free ticket to live. How does the laser determine the sex? Males and females have different wing beats.

In a controlled environment, however, one without butterflies and other bugs, mosquitoes experience a death yanked straight out of science fiction movies: the laser strikes, the insect bursts into flame, and then crashes down to the surface in a smoldering heap. Honestly, in some ways, that sounds like poetic justice, especially after a night out in the forest with no bug repellant. "We'd be delighted if we destabilize the human-mosquito balance of power," said Dr. Kare.

Does that sound inhumane? If so, just remember that most US cities spray pesticides in the evening air every summer to reduce the mosquito count. Just imagine the benefit lasers could offer if mounted on the back of those trucks instead of chemical sprayers. Then again, with the U.S. Army mounting lasers on tanks capable of destroying other tanks, these mosquito killers could very well be secret weapons of Homeland Security dressed up as bug zappers. After all, these Weapons of Mosquito Destruction stem from the original Star Wars program meant to defend America against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

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  • 0 Hide
    jacobdrj , March 16, 2009 10:20 PM
    Too cool!
  • 1 Hide
    zerapio , March 16, 2009 10:27 PM
    Video on YouTube of said laser zapping mosquitoes in 3...2...1...
  • 6 Hide
    Anonymous , March 16, 2009 10:27 PM
    Kevin Parrish needs to move out of his mom's basement!
  • 1 Hide
    skine , March 16, 2009 10:32 PM
    zerapioVideo on YouTube of said laser zapping mosquitoes in 3...2...1...

    I didn't find a real video, but I did find this parody for http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSIWpFPkYrk from two years ago.
  • 0 Hide
    skine , March 16, 2009 10:33 PM
    *for Starwars Misquito Defense System
  • -1 Hide
    curnel_D , March 16, 2009 10:42 PM
    juw148Kevin Parrish needs to move out of his mom's basement!

    Lol, the funniest thing I've heard all day.
  • 0 Hide
    zhelkus , March 16, 2009 11:44 PM
    What would be the initial price if this was released to the market??? I don't care! I'm getting one!!

    Suddenly great white killer sharks with lasers mounted onto their heads doesn't sound so stupid...
  • 0 Hide
    Tekkamanraiden , March 16, 2009 11:53 PM
    Starwars Mosquito Defense System has a nice ring to it.
  • 1 Hide
    cruiseoveride , March 17, 2009 12:48 AM
    "Okay Bill, this is what we're gonna do. we're going to zap mosquitoes with Lasers!"

    How freagin' high were they when they decided that?

    Seems like an excuse to research on "real" weapon technology
  • 0 Hide
    Thunderfox , March 17, 2009 12:57 AM
    "Scientists shoots"? Par for the course...
  • 0 Hide
    Heyw00d , March 17, 2009 1:15 AM
    Where can I find the plans and part numbers to build my own?
  • 0 Hide
    Tindytim , March 17, 2009 1:28 AM
    Quote:
    In fact, they even envision drone aircraft equipped with laser turrets that will shoot down the pesky bugs from above with "death dealing protons."

    Why am I not surprised you don't know your elementary particles, Mr.Parrish?
  • 2 Hide
    Neog2 , March 17, 2009 3:50 AM
    cruiseoveride"Okay Bill, this is what we're gonna do. we're going to zap mosquitoes with Lasers!"How freagin' high were they when they decided that?Seems like an excuse to research on "real" weapon technology


    I dont know if your joking are you just dont know.
    Malaria is a real serious threat in other parts of the world.
    Over a million people die each year from the disease.
    It is said one person dies from it about every 30 seconds.

    I have been overseas and I have seen the effects and its freaking
    ridiculous its no joke.

    Anything to irradicate this disease is a welecome no matter how
    insane it sounds as long as it is cheap to implement.
  • -3 Hide
    DawnTreader , March 17, 2009 6:09 AM
    i cant believe people are wasting thier money on this for "the benefit of mankind" when there are people in parts of the world they could have fed for years with the money being spent on this. i will admit that it is great that they are trying to take out diseases like Malaria, but for crying out loud Lasers? try vacines and pest control.
  • 0 Hide
    DawnTreader , March 17, 2009 6:12 AM
    oh, hold on, this isnt some kind of early april fools would it?
  • 0 Hide
    Hatecrime69 , March 17, 2009 8:39 AM
    sounds a bit like a cheap excuse to shop on ebay on the company account, but i guess everybody loves frikin' lazers!
  • 1 Hide
    scarpa , March 17, 2009 9:20 AM
    "just remember that most US cities spray pesticides in the evening air every summer to reduce the mosquito count. Just imagine the benefit lasers could offer if mounted on the back of those trucks instead of chemical sprayers"

    Definitely this technology should get government funding so that we don't have to be intoxicated with pesticides in order to kill mosquitoes.
  • 0 Hide
    necro1783 , March 17, 2009 10:13 AM
    cruiseoveride"Okay Bill, this is what we're gonna do. we're going to zap mosquitoes with Lasers!"How freagin' high were they when they decided that?


    I agree, i mean yea its nice to know their working on some kind of control for the disease but lasers? i mean how do you not laugh in the face of the guy who suggested that.
  • 2 Hide
    snotling , March 17, 2009 11:21 AM
    joeman42Like SDI, this will prove to be a failure. There are so many obstacles for this to work outside of a lab, cost, identifying and targeting the bugs, having sufficient power, range and accuracy to neutralize them (air around a tropical swamp has a lot of moisture and gunk to overcome). This while not harming beneficial insects or passersby.

    The point is not to shoot the mosquito in his swamp but in inhabited regions where Malaria is killing masses. and certainly it would be much better than pesticides as others have pointed out.
    DawnTreaderi cant believe people are wasting thier money on this for "the benefit of mankind" when there are people in parts of the world they could have fed for years with the money being spent on this. i will admit that it is great that they are trying to take out diseases like Malaria, but for crying out loud Lasers? try vacines and pest control.

    This actually IS pest control! and what would be the point of feeding the world if you let them Die of Malaria afterwards? (by the way there is still no vaccine for Malaria so where do you want the money to go, pharmaceutical companies who had their chance but did nothing or cool laser that shoot nasty bugs?)
    DawnTreaderoh, hold on, this isnt some kind of early april fools would it?

    Could verry well be!
  • 0 Hide
    aracheb , March 17, 2009 12:05 PM
    malaria could be prevented but is not curable after you have it.
    so i opt for a yes in this project since only eliminate the female.
    since the male mosquitoes server as temporary food for but catching reptiles and other animals, that kills many others disease spreader bug..
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