Zika virus defense: Shooting Mosquitoes Down with Lasers

Screenshot of a burning mosquito, from a TED talk about how to shoot mosquitoes out of the air with a laser.
Screenshot of a burning mosquito, from a TED talk by Nathan Myhrvold, about how to shoot mosquitoes out of the air with a laser.

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Imagine a machine which can shoot mosquitoes out of the sky using a laser. From the Arctic to the tropics, mosquitoes are a major nuisance, and in some cases a lethal threat. The possibility of shooting the nasty little critters out of the sky just edged a little closer, thanks to a study which investigated the most efficient means of delivering a lethal pulse of laser light to our mosquito enemies.

Small, flying insects continue to pose great risks to both human health and agricultural production throughout the world, so there remains a compelling need to develop new vector and pest control approaches. Here, we examined the use of short (<25 ms) laser pulses to kill or disable anesthetized female Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes, which were chosen as a representative species. The mortality of mosquitoes exposed to laser pulses of various wavelength, power, pulse duration, and spot size combinations was assessed 24 hours after exposure. For otherwise comparable conditions, green and far-infrared wavelengths were found to be more effective than near- and mid-infrared wavelengths. Pulses with larger laser spot sizes required lower lethal energy densities, or fluence, but more pulse energy than for smaller spot sizes with greater fluence. Pulse duration had to be reduced by several orders of magnitude to significantly lower the lethal pulse energy or fluence required. These results identified the most promising candidates for the lethal laser component in a system being designed to identify, track, and shoot down flying insects in the wild.

Read more: http://www.nature.com/articles/srep20936

Blowing up sleeping mosquitoes, however satisfying, is obviously not going to to completely solve the issue of how to blast them out of the sky. But one of my favourite TED talk videos, presented by Nathan Myhrvold, demonstrates an experimental device designed to do just that – to target and eliminate flying mosquitoes, under laboratory conditions.

The TED talk is fascinating and inspirational, because Nathan claims they built their mosquito laser defence system out of optical scrap purchased on eBay. Ever since I saw the video, I’ve had a burning urge to try to build my own mosquito laser system. I suspect my version would probably pose more of a danger to the cat, than to flying mosquitoes – but I really want to give it a go.

Because someone, somewhere will make that vital set of breakthroughs required, to take this idea from the laboratory to the shelves of Walmart. My prediction is in 10 – 20 years at most, no backyard BBQ will be complete, without its own laser light show blasting mosquitoes out of the air before they get a chance to bite.

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February 21, 2016 11:46 pm

The problem with lasers is their range. A laser pulse hot enough to fry a bug is probably also hot enough to damage a retina or temporarily blind an airline pilot, far, far away.
So your laser bug zapper would need to be set up like a gun at target range, to only shoot at bugs when they’re in front of a suitable backdrop. That could still be useful, I guess, though it still might blind the occasional songbird.

Steve Crook
Reply to  daveburton
February 22, 2016 1:24 am

Only if the laser misses its target and the pulse is of sufficiently long duration.
If it’s possible to track and identify a mosquito it should be possible to hit it with a pulse. I think there’s more likely to be problems with people moving between the zapper and target just at the wrong time, but even then the software should be able to stop the laser from firing once something starts to move between it and the target. At the very least, facial recognition will stop the laser firing at peoples faces.
What with all that and not having it shoot down harmless insects, it’s a mighty interesting challenge. Even if the zapper never comes to fruition it’ll push the technology in interesting new ways…

Reply to  Steve Crook
February 22, 2016 2:49 am

NO. even if the laser hits it’s target there will likely be some light which gets past and presents a hazard. If the pulse is long enough and strong enough to kill a mosquito it will certainly be long enough and strong enough to blow a hole in your retina.
This could find an applicaiton for indoor use aimed up in the air , as long as there are no reflective objects like metal light fittings up there.
Sounds pretty risky to me.
It may be nice to clear your sleeping area but as a general solution to reducing mosquito populations it’s a joke. Someone should work out how much energy it required per shot , how many mosquitoes there are in the world and do the sums.
We’d probably need to double global power generation capacity just to power all these lasers.

Owen in GA
Reply to  Steve Crook
February 22, 2016 5:41 am

Put it on a UAV and blast the critters in a look-down, shoot-down mode for 30 minutes before the engagement then patrol the perimeter away from guests. Not much danger of hitting a pilot unless you have a mirror or a swimming pool on a very calm day. The hard part will be to program the sensor to not shoot ladybugs and preying mantis or other desirable insects. Still a hard problem though.

Reply to  Steve Crook
February 22, 2016 7:21 am

How about hanging it off a gutter/tree/ and having it look/shoot down?

Reply to  Steve Crook
February 22, 2016 7:47 am

Put it on your house’s ridgeline and set to shoot downwards.
Set the sensor to disable the system if there is anything larger than a cat in the yard.

Reply to  Steve Crook
February 22, 2016 9:03 am


Reply to  daveburton
February 22, 2016 4:42 am

Rather than using a parallel ‘beam’ of light a couple mm in diameter, start with a beam a couple of cm in diameter that is ran through a variable focus lens. Set the focus so that the beam converges right at the mosquito but is harmlessly dispersed everywhere else.

Reply to  tomcourt
February 22, 2016 5:30 am

That should be workable. Laser light can be focused. The system will need a good ranger as well as a targeter.

Matt Bergin
Reply to  tomcourt
February 22, 2016 6:34 am

+10 Took the words right out of my mouth.

Ben of Houston
Reply to  tomcourt
February 22, 2016 12:32 pm

So let’s take the already nigh-impossibility of lasering a mosquito mid-flight and add a complicated laser focus to make it useless unless you get not only the angle but the range correct.
The laser is easy. It’s targeting that’s the problem.

Reply to  daveburton
February 22, 2016 9:52 am

Long wavelength infrared such as the wavelength of CO2 lasers is blocked by water, fluids and tissues in the eye, and glass.
Laser beams also diverge and become less dangerous with increasing distance. The divergence rate can be adjusted by choice of wavelength, initial beam diameter, and any optics to cause divergence greater than the theoretical minimum.

February 21, 2016 11:47 pm

What is beyond the mosquito target that might be collateral damage from firing that laser? As a shooter of firearms we’re constantly aware of what is behind our target. Beyond the target of a laser could be a Boeing 777.

Bloke down the pub
Reply to  dp
February 22, 2016 3:04 am

Linking the laser to an aircraft tracker website should make the system aware when there is a risk of collateral damage. Not that I think the short burst that’s being talked about here pose a serious threat.

Reply to  Bloke down the pub
February 22, 2016 4:16 am

Not that I think the short burst that’s being talked about here pose a serious threat.

If there’s enough energy to zap a bug, there’s enough energy to take out your retina.
We got rid of malaria mosquitoes in America without the use of lasers. The biggest factor in getting rid of Zika mosquitoes is getting rid of poverty. Cheap energy goes a long way to getting rid of poverty.

Reply to  Bloke down the pub
February 22, 2016 6:16 am

We got rid of malaria mosquitoes in America
And then made it illegal to use the same solution to eradicate Malaria in the rest of the world. For years the World Health Organization listed bed-bugs as a vector spreading Slim’s Disease in Africa. What we now know as HIV/AIDS. Imagine the panic if this link is ever proven.

Reply to  Bloke down the pub
February 22, 2016 7:49 am

Now scale that up to enough lasers to make this nutter scheme effective. Tens of thousands of lasers firing at random in random directions all across the world.

Reply to  Bloke down the pub
February 22, 2016 9:46 am

Regarding Fed Berple’s comment about the anti-malaria solution being illegal worldwide after it was successfully used in America: If he is talking about DDT, it is still legal for mosquito control in all except a couple dozen countries, most of which don’t have malaria.

Reply to  Bloke down the pub
February 22, 2016 12:38 pm

Yes, it poses a huge threat, to pilots or drivers. Burn, blind, or dazzle (if it hits a windshield, it scatters the light, hurting and causing you to see spots, but not blinding you), it’s all incredibly dangerous to someone operating a motor vehicle..
Your stupidly complex interlock (note, on a clear day, a laser powerful enough to burn a mosquito has a range measured in miles) would just make the entire system useless anywhere near an airport.

February 21, 2016 11:52 pm

Can we please just bring back DDT?

Reply to  Lloyd
February 22, 2016 6:59 am

Much of the eradication of malaria in NA involved drainage. DDT alone could not rid the continent of a vector borne endemic disease. Too bad windmills don’t kill mosquitoes.

February 21, 2016 11:53 pm

Lasers? Maybe. But in Texas, they use a number of defensive, and offensive, weapons on mosquitos.
Many use natural gas or propane devices, which attract the pests with CO2, then kills them.
My neighbour has a pesticide mister attached to his house, which releases a mosquito toxin on a timed schedule. Harmless to everything else (I HOPE!)
The old standby is a UV light and a zapper.
There are also mosquito bits and dunks, that kill larvae, and not much else.
Ultrasound seems to work for some.
Some try to get bats to live in the area.
And probably a lot more I don’t know about.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Les Johnson
February 22, 2016 2:32 am

“Les Johnson
February 21, 2016 at 11:53 pm
The old standby is a UV light and a zapper.”
Kills everything, including good bugs, except a mozzie. Mozzies are attracted to CO2 not UV, so a waste of power and space.

Sweet Old Bob
Reply to  Patrick MJD
February 22, 2016 8:17 am

Ummm …. so why do I have to keep cleaning their bodies off my zapper ? Kansas mosquitoes just suicidal ?….(8>))

Reply to  Les Johnson
February 22, 2016 9:29 am

Good one, Les. I had a zapper in my backyard in Georgia, amid the pines. It zapped in a very satisfying manner. Unfortunately, I needed a finite number of mosquitoes to keep them away from my backyard deck.

February 21, 2016 11:54 pm

Did April 1st come early this year? This is the 2nd joke article I’ve seen.

Reply to  Hivemind
February 21, 2016 11:56 pm

The other one was an article about the zombie plague, spread vectors and treatment.

February 22, 2016 12:00 am

The mosquito that carries Zika (and other diseases) is Aedes aegypti. It likes indoors, and bites throughout the day. An insecticide like Raid, used occasionally, along with screens and closed doors and windows, would mostly control it.
The use of IRS (Internal Residual Spraying) with DDT would eliminate the bug.

Reply to  Les Johnson
February 22, 2016 6:23 am

the difference between Raid and DDT is that Raid works for hours or days at best, DDT works for months. mosquitos love to hang upside down from the ceiling and underside of cupboards, tables, etc., where they are nearly impossible to spot. All too often it is the walls and floors that get sprayed, while the more likely spots are missed.

Sandy In Limousin
February 22, 2016 12:08 am

I’m not aware of any diseases carried by the Scottish Midge but even a Laser would struggle against them.

Reply to  Sandy In Limousin
February 22, 2016 2:08 am

The islands in Poole Harbour are pretty horrendous too, but I’m up for anything that can sort out our Greek variety. ‘Himself’ is a mozzie-magnet and our terrace is pretty much out of bounds for him in an evening.

JJM Gommers
February 22, 2016 12:36 am

The idea of using laser beams to destroy the wings is not new and came up more than 10 years ago, another alternative for use at home was an attempt to remove the wings by adapting the frequency of noise to the wing speed.

Reply to  JJM Gommers
February 22, 2016 4:24 am

So the plan is to blow the wings off the little blood suckers so they can have an easier job of sneaking up on us? Uh, yeah, great plan. What was wrong with DDT again?

Reply to  jollygreenwatchman
February 22, 2016 9:57 am

Wingless mosquitoes can’t fly to good places to lay their eggs.

February 22, 2016 12:57 am

I prefer low-tech stuff that works. Stuff like this fly killing salt gun.
But I kill mosquitoes with a UV fly killer and some of those electric tennis racket things (I have several about the house)!!

Reply to  indefatigablefrog
February 22, 2016 10:05 am

I like the Bug-A-Salt gun. Here’s another idea: A squirt gun filled with extra-high-proof liquor, 150 proof or more. Organic solvents penetrate bugs’ skins and pickle them to death.

Reply to  Donald L. Klipstein
February 23, 2016 8:11 am

That’s a waste of good liquor.

February 22, 2016 1:03 am

Let’s see. It seems this African-chimp-hosted-privately-patented Zika virus began as the cause-for-hundreds-of-Brazilian-babies-to-be-born-with-small-heads. Which was quickly dispatched as another lie by the Net. But not before the U.S. allocated a billion or so to “. . . combat the dreaded Zika virus.” Didn’t “AIDS” start in Africa? Near a volcano, I think they said. Then came the three-year-public-was-forewarned-(How do you predict a pandemic three years in advance?)-swine flu for which the WHO issued a Level 6 alert (a Level 6 warning would automatically have allowed the declaration of martial law by the WHO in order to “stamp out” an emerging pandemic. Can you say mandatory jabs?) that appeared from somewhere and went nowhere after they failed to get the pandemic started. Then there was Ebola (that also “appeared again) on the Dark Continent) that turned out to be a hoax. Now comes Zika, yet another earth-threatening disease that BigPharma is working feverishly on to roll out enough “vaccines” and, with the help of the WHO, save humanity just in the nick of time. One has to wonder if these “disease panics” are strawmen hiding a hidden agenda for the boys’ behind the curtain. You’d think they could come up with something else. Or at least vary their agenda to give the appearance that some thought was going into their false flag vaccine schemes, scams, and lies.

Reply to  Wrusssr
February 22, 2016 12:41 pm

Ummm. You need to check yourself into a mental hospital my friend.

Jerker Andersson
February 22, 2016 1:03 am

While killing all the mosquitoes with laser may solve one problem it may cause another one if it is done effectivley. The birds feeding on them will see i big drop in available food in areas where humans live.

Reply to  Jerker Andersson
February 22, 2016 1:28 am

The law of unintended consequences is one that can never be repealed.

Reply to  markstoval
February 22, 2016 1:09 pm

My thoughts also Mark and Jerker. Build a bat house near your deck, let the swallows nest nearby, put trout in nearby pond to eat larvae – mosquitoes controlled. Don’t know if bats, birds and fish would carry the zika virus but I doubt it since they would be eating them, not getting bitten by them.

Don K
Reply to  Jerker Andersson
February 22, 2016 5:02 am

“The birds feeding on them will see i big drop in available food in areas where humans live.”
Birds will just have to learn to eat what’s available — people. It’s adapt or die.
Speaking of Dawinism will mosquito evolution somehow confront us with mosquitoes that are immune to laser attack? Will they be less or more annoying than the current ones?
And more seriously, in my youth I worked a bit on Air and Missile defense systems. I suspect that detecting, tracking, and blasting the little nuisances without collateral damage may be a bit more difficult than most folks assume.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Muminabad
Reply to  Don K
February 22, 2016 10:34 am

The systems already exist. Several. They blast with blue light and it causes them to fall to the ground where they die later. No one knows why.
I don’t care.

Don K
Reply to  Jerker Andersson
February 22, 2016 5:34 am

“The birds [and bats] feeding on them will see i big drop in available food in areas where humans live.”
The birds and bats are just going to have find another food source — people perhaps. It’s adapt or die.
Likewise, the mosquitoes would quite likely develop some sort of defense against laser attacks.
In my youth, I worked a bit with air and missile defense systems. I think that even if the problem of precisely aiming tiny lasers can be solved, the problem of detecting, tracking, and targeting mosquitoes may prove to be a bit more challenging than most folks assume. e.g. Don’t be too surprised if your MSD (Mosquito Defense System) attacks your patio plants whenever the wind blows the leaves around.

Reply to  Jerker Andersson
February 22, 2016 7:06 am

Don’t fret, the Chironomidae will pick up the slack. Upsides: They don’t bite, they do the same job of mozzies in the water, and when the populations achieve a certain point (you’ll love this) they actually harass mosquitoes away from their breeding grounds!

Reply to  Jerker Andersson
February 22, 2016 1:33 pm

I was scanning comments for exactly one like Jerker’s….what happens to the food chain if we eradicate or even seriously thin the numbers of mosquitoes? Birds, amphibians, spiders (the good ones) fish, dragonflies, bats…all eat mosquitoes. And then how does them dying of starvation affect the predators that eat THOSE things?

February 22, 2016 1:16 am

Is that a joke?

Gary in Erko
February 22, 2016 1:33 am

Where can I buy miniature versions of the Israeli patriot missiles.

February 22, 2016 1:41 am

This seems to have potential. It’s not an Israeli Patriot missile.
But it’s a bacteria with the word israel in the title. And it kills mosquito larvae.

Geoff Sherrington
February 22, 2016 2:03 am

For a couple of years after about 2000 I worked with high-powered industrial lasers, both CO2 for welding/cutting steel and YAG for marking, smaller welds, medical etc.
A fundamental property is that for many applications, success comes from a good focus. The mm wide, parallel sided beams that exit the lasers need to be optically focussed to a tiny dot with large energy density.
For example, we had a farmer from the western plains who wanted to harvest his wheat with a laser. He thought he could sit in the air conditioned comfort of his home while sweeps with a horizontal laser beam would neatly bring down the wheat. No, it would not, because there is not enough energy in the parallel beam he was thinking about. And if you focus, you might cut a few metres either side of the focal point, depending on energy.
OTOH, another customer who made confectionery wanted a way to cut bite sized pieces from industrial sized slabs of coconut ice, because knives soon gummed up and lost effectiveness. Yep, the laser is fine because you are close to the focus point with its high energy density.
As for the mossie, I’d need to see the proposal, but I can envisage failure from the various distances they are away from the laser. You can focus a beam relatively quickly, but usually it is a mechanical movement at far less of the speed of an electronic signal.

Geoff Sherrington
Reply to  Eric Worrall
February 22, 2016 2:50 am

Tracking with mirrors is faster than focussing on a moving target.

Paul Westhaver
Reply to  Eric Worrall
February 22, 2016 3:21 am

Yup Edgerton figured that out years ago when doing high speed photography of artillery round trajectory etc.. He used a stroboscope and spun mirrors and film at very high speed. The targeting was accomplished electronically by timing the light source negating the need to move the mirror quickly in response to the target or the film for that matter. Very clever. Nowadays, moving optics and film are not at issue.

Gary in Erko
Reply to  Geoff Sherrington
February 22, 2016 1:40 pm

A lens that’s a sack of liquid like in our eyes could change focus quickly.

Paul Westhaver
February 22, 2016 2:12 am

I made one 12 months ago. I originally was using it to disrupt a crow’s nest. I used a construction laser. It worked well and had the idea to deal with mosquitoes and black flies. You don’t have to kill the mosquito to disrupt them. I looked into the IP landscape and considered filing but decided that I cold not get around the likelihood of injuring a human retina accidentally. Though I think it works ok, and there are schemes to make a product, the down side of a product liability suit loomed too large for my liking.
So, I come up with a better solution. 🙂
The USPTO will publish any new filings after the provisional time window of 12 months…. so keep your eyes peeled!!
I need an electrical engineer, and a good software engineer.

February 22, 2016 2:25 am


Reply to  tobias smit
February 22, 2016 9:08 am

tobias…my feeling exactly. We have a perfectly acceptable way of eradicating mosquitoes with out going star wars on them….no matter how fun that may be.

Paul Westhaver
Reply to  tobias smit
February 22, 2016 9:15 am

Agreed. Human life is more valuable than fake stories about sea bird egg shell thinning. I recall the television commercial about the evils of DDT when I was a youngster. It was a travesty that the “science” was faked to create a propaganda campaign to move public opinion against DDT. Well those “worthless brown people” in Sri Lanka were disposable people.

David Chappell
February 22, 2016 2:29 am

The problem with mosquitos in my neck of the woods is that, as soon as you think you’re tracking them nicley, the buggers disappear into a parallel universe..

Bloke down the pub
February 22, 2016 3:00 am

All those little boys who used a magnifying glass to burn the wings off a fly can now claim they were doing science.

Doug Huffman
February 22, 2016 3:28 am

The mosquito laser will sell better with an audible pop and sizzle on success. Else why give up my electric fly swatter.
About AC, read deeper to the product’s target verification.

February 22, 2016 4:10 am

My friend has just purchased, on line, an image recognition device… just need a picture of a mosquito and “ZAP”

chris moffatt
February 22, 2016 4:16 am

Another cockamamie TED Talk – will it never end? They had the answer to mosquito control seventy years ago it was called DDT. I can see this crazy contraption killing billions of useful things like moths etc while ignoring mosquitoes – kind of like those backyard blue bugzappers you never see anymore because they killed everything but mosquitoes, which never went near them.

Reply to  chris moffatt
February 22, 2016 6:30 am

Unfortunately indiscriminate use of DDT rendered it useless because the mosquitoes rapidly built up resistance. Removing it from agricultural use and restricting it just to regulated use in the home restored its effectiveness to an extent. Spraying with B.Th. is a more effective and safer alternative. Regarding the laser attacks on pilots I don’t know why they just don’t issue the protective glare shields to the pilots. We used them and shields made from the same material in my laser lab for decades!

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Phil.
February 22, 2016 7:09 am

Because the shields are frequency specific. How many do you want to put on the windshield? Or on the goggles for the pilots?

Monna Manhas
Reply to  Phil.
February 22, 2016 7:56 am

Phil – Your comment about restricting the use of DDT restoring its efficacy doesn’t make sense. Resistance to something (anything) is achieved by administering small doses. That is how, for example, allergy therapy is conducted – administer small doses of the allergen in order to reduce the reaction. It is also why we now have to deal with antibiotic-resistant superbugs – because people did not take the full dose of their antibiotics and kill the bacteria causing the problem, the particular bacteria they were trying to combat became resistant to that antibiotic.
So it is counter-intuitive to suggest that reducing the use of DDT to intermittent (household-only) attacks on the mosquito population would somehow restore its effectiveness. Rather, like antibiotic therapy, you should first eradicate the problem (get rid of all malaria-infected mosquitoes) and THEN reduce the use of DDT. But that is not what happened, so millions of people in Third World countries have died needlessly.

Reply to  Phil.
February 22, 2016 8:57 am

D. J. Hawkins February 22, 2016 at 7:09 am
Because the shields are frequency specific. How many do you want to put on the windshield? Or on the goggles for the pilots?

Basic problem is the use of 532nm laser pointers, such limited frequency goggles are available which would eliminate the problem.

Reply to  Phil.
February 22, 2016 9:22 am

Monna Manhas February 22, 2016 at 7:56 am
Phil – Your comment about restricting the use of DDT restoring its efficacy doesn’t make sense. Resistance to something (anything) is achieved by administering small doses.

No, resistance to DDT in insects is the result of a single mutation in a particular gene. The indiscriminate use of DDT in agriculture made the general population of mosquitoes resistant. Use of it in just the treatment indoors would have not have the same effect. Once the resistant gene has built up in the population it will persist for a long time because it has no evolutionary cost.
So it is counter-intuitive to suggest that reducing the use of DDT to intermittent (household-only) attacks on the mosquito population would somehow restore its effectiveness. Rather, like antibiotic therapy, you should first eradicate the problem (get rid of all malaria-infected mosquitoes) and THEN reduce the use of DDT.
When used in conjunction with widespread use of quinine, public health initiatives, removing marshy, swampy areas and not using it in agricultural contexts such as in Italy post WW II for about three years you have a chance of eradicating the parasite. If you don’t achieve that in that timeframe DDT has failed and is useless for future treatment. A similar strategy in South Africa was successful, subsequent treatment using pyrethrins kept malaria in check, when an outbreak involving pyrethrin resistant mosquitoes occurred emergency use of DDT got it under control. DDT is routinely used in various African countries in indoor spraying and bed nets to control malaria.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Phil.
February 24, 2016 12:58 pm

D. J. Hawkins February 22, 2016 at 7:09 am
Because the shields are frequency specific. How many do you want to put on the windshield? Or on the goggles for the pilots?
Basic problem is the use of 532nm laser pointers, such limited frequency goggles are available which would eliminate the problem.

You have attempted a goal shift here. Why do you assume that these will be the same frequency as laser pointers? Why wouldn’t different manufacturers choose different frequencies? Cutting lasers, for example, frequently use infrared wavelengths.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Muminabad
Reply to  chris moffatt
February 22, 2016 5:49 pm

The lasers are targeting mozzies, not other flying things. They (already) use sound to locate them then blast away. The ones available that I read about are in the form of an open rectangular space, say 8×4 ft, and take out any mozzie that flies through. The highest hit rate I found was 2000 per second.

February 22, 2016 4:16 am

zap.. Zap…zap…ZAP
Just listen to that serenity

February 22, 2016 4:44 am

A “Star Wars approach” to the Battle on Zika

Intellectual Ventures was recently highlighted in a story by the Associated Press for its “Star Wars approach” to fighting the spread of the Zika virus. According to the CDC, the first cases of Zika in the Western Hemisphere were identified in May 2015 in Brazil. And just six months later the virus had been identified in an additional thirteen countries and territories in the Americas. Arty Makagon (AM), Technical Project Lead for Photonic Fence – IV’s laser-based, mosquito-killing technology – discusses the role lasers could play in limiting the spread of Zika and other pathogens spread by flying insects.

February 22, 2016 5:20 am

I read about this invention years ago–it was apparently concocted as one of Bill Gates’ efforts to help humanity, so this is relatively old news.

Reply to  RockyRoad
February 22, 2016 6:45 am

Supposing one of these shoot-down techniques were successful. The only mosquitoes remaining would be the ones that were big enough to survive the strike. Result: a new population of mega mosquitoes would evolve, and you’d need a baseball bat to take them out.

Monna Manhas
Reply to  Trebla
February 22, 2016 7:58 am

They already have mega-mosquitoes up north LOL. Ever been in a northern forest? The critters are big enough to trap and make a fur coat.

Reply to  Trebla
February 22, 2016 9:13 am

Exactly Monna, Trebla has apparently never been to Alaska in the Summer! We’re gonna need a bigger laser!

Reply to  Trebla
February 22, 2016 10:18 am

Regarding “mega mosquitoes” up north: Has anyone actually been bitten by one? These sound like crane flies.

Reply to  Trebla
February 22, 2016 11:16 am

No Donald Crane flies prey on ordinary mosquitoes. In Alaska the Mosquitoes are BIG travel in BIG swarms and threaten to drain you of blood.

Monna Manhas
Reply to  RockyRoad
February 22, 2016 11:15 am

Donald Klipstein – I lived in northern BC (just south of the Alaska panhandle) for almost 20 years and donated much blood to the mosquito cause. And yes, I do know the difference between crane flies and mosquitoes – northern mosquitoes aren’t as big as crane flies and they are voracious blood-suckers.
The other nasty little guys up where I lived were black flies and the ubiquitous “no-see-ums.” No-see-ums are tiny little bugs that take a huge bite: you don’t notice them until there is blood dripping down your arm.

February 22, 2016 5:21 am

A rail gun that shoots tiny pellets could instead target their probosces. The limited range, and not being immediately fatal, will solve many of the problems.

February 22, 2016 5:36 am

Only a physicist could conceive that the system under investigation solely contains mosquitos.
In the real world of environmental polycultures, you have to address the specific issue of ‘specificity of targeting’.
I can develop you 100 drugs that target a particular enzyme beautifully. If 99 of them also zap other proteins causing untold harmful side-effects, they don’t get beyond very initial animal trials, do they? Well, apart from the odd one in a million which has no effect in any animal but has lethal effects in humans (thalidomide, take a bow).
I wouldn’t let you anywhere near any mosquito-zapping device which wasn’t provably harmless to a long list of other things……..

February 22, 2016 5:37 am

What about multiple laser with different spacing all firing at the same time. The power would be high enough at the intended spot but all other spots have a much lower power density.

February 22, 2016 5:43 am

I thought the date today is February 22.

February 22, 2016 5:55 am

Mosquitos are one thing but what about using lasers to destroy the evil Carbon pollution?
Have free-flying drones drifting through the skies globally cleansing the earth by zapping Carbon atoms.. I guarantee those poor 3rd world farmers suffering in that Carbon pollution outdoors in their fields or behind the very thin walls and roofs of their homes will not be troubled much longer. Makes a change from bombs! Think how grateful they will be. The evil oil barons won’t be buying diamonds any more either as the diamonds will have been zapped.
What could go wrong with that?

February 22, 2016 5:58 am

Apologies if this was already mentioned (and if it is utterly stupid), but what about multiple very low-strength beams originating from different points, but converging on the target? If they miss, low-strength pulses continue to space/other with (ideally) no damage to anything they hit.
Given other options for mosquito control, this seems a bit of a stretch. I’m still waiting for sharks with frickin’ laser beams… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bh7bYNAHXxw

Reply to  Theyouk
February 22, 2016 10:22 pm

I’m glad someone else did the “sharks with frikin laser beams on their heads” gag. It preserves my dignity.

February 22, 2016 6:03 am

What about GMing giant carnivorous Killer Mosquitos to take-out the locals? Let nature do the work. What could go wrong with that?

Gary Pearse
February 22, 2016 6:19 am

David Chappell
February 22, 2016 at 2:29 am
“The problem with mosquitos in my neck of the woods is that, as soon as you think you’re tracking them nicley, the buggers disappear into a parallel universe..”
Having done a number of projects in Africa, I had a routine of de-mosquitoing my room before nightfall. Knowing where they hide during the day, I flushed them out with a towel and gave the room a light spray. I know what Dave Chappell means about them disappearing before your eyes. The anopheles is a small mosquito and can do this trick very readily and I undertook to study the phenomenon. After some observation, I finally noticed that when you focused on them they seemed to be able to see that you were looking right at them. They would simply drop a few feet down and fly to a dark landing spot nearby while your eye was tracking in the direction of their flight prior to the drop. Poof, they were gone.

Reply to  Gary Pearse
February 22, 2016 7:45 am

perhaps quantum entanglement?

February 22, 2016 6:50 am

1939 – DDT discovered by Paul Müller.
1947 – In 13 southern states, over 4,650,000 houses were sprayed with DDT.
1948 – Paul Müller awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine.
1949 – Malaria eradicated from Italy.
1951 – Malaria eradicated from the U.S.
1955 – The World Health Organization (WHO) makes plans to eradicate malaria worldwide.
1970 – WHO announces that malaria has been eradicated in 37 countries.
1972 – EPA bans DDT in the U.S.
1976 – WHO gives up on eradicating malaria.

Reply to  ferdberple
February 22, 2016 8:46 am

ferdberple February 22, 2016 at 6:50 am
1939 – DDT discovered by Paul Müller.
1947 – In 13 southern states, over 4,650,000 houses were sprayed with DDT.
1948 – Paul Müller awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine.
194962 – Malaria eradicated from Italy. Had been substantially eradicated in the 30’s by free distribution of quinine, vector control, draining of marshes. WWII damage and breakdown of services led to resurgence.
1951 – Malaria eradicated from the U.S.
1955 – The World Health Organization (WHO) makes plans to eradicate malaria worldwide.
1959 – The first resistance to DDT detected in India. In areas previously sprayed with DDT a fully resistant population develops in a few months.
1970 – WHO announces that malaria has been eradicated in 37 countries.
1972 – EPA bans DDT in the U.S. for agricultural use. At this time the vast majority was being used on cotton crops not on mosquitoes. By this time 19 species of malarial vector mosquito species were found to be DDT resistant worldwide.
1976 – WHO gives up on eradicating malaria. Mainly due to increased resistance of the mosquitoes to pesticides, ex-endemic areas had been reinvaded by malaria.
1984 – About 450 species of insect documented to be resistant to DDT

Eradication of the P. falciparum takes suppression of the parasite for about three years, so eradication was possible in some areas. With DDT on first application you’ll get about 7 years of mosquito suppression, second time around about 7 months. Consequently if DDT didn’t work first time around you need to go elsewhere.

February 22, 2016 6:53 am

The arrival of Zika in Brazil last year initially caused little alarm, as the virus’ symptoms are generally much milder than those of dengue. It didn’t become a crisis until late in the year, when researchers made the link with a dramatic increase in reported cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect that sees babies born with unusually small heads and can cause lasting developmental problems.

Dudley Horscroft
February 22, 2016 6:55 am

So, provide dark landing spots fitted with flypaper. Oh, no, this will upset PETA. Better think again.
Standing water? What is wrong with paraffin? SG = 0.8, will float and prevent them breathing.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Muminabad
Reply to  Dudley Horscroft
February 22, 2016 5:59 pm

So does a drop of liquid soap. This is a common tactic in developing countries. I have seen it used on ponds.

February 22, 2016 7:04 am

I wonder how many relevant patents he holds? And, how many of them cover “obvious” technologies? /sarc off

Randy in Ridgecrest
February 22, 2016 7:31 am

Anything laser device has to clear laser safety classification. I’ve been doing this with a class 1 device that has at it’s heart a class 4 photon generator. Not a fun or fast process.
Ultimately, to bring down mosquitos it has to be a focused system with a agile beam director that has a significant aperture diameter, say 30mm or so. A galvo disco mirror system might be good enough for the “gimbal” system. The light needs to be pulsed, directed, and focused on the target. That means detection and tracking. That means it might be active – that is there is an illumination laser in the system to provide contrast, higher detectability, better background discrimination, and sufficiently good tracking to wack it. Perhaps there will be a ultrasonic “sonar” detector that detects the intrusion of and rough location of a mosquito and then cues off to optical tracking. Starts to sound like a HEL weapons system. It is focused, therefore the lethal depth of focus is limited, which is good for safety. Mosquito lethality is apparently now a field of investigation. I would imagine it comes down to the adsorption mechanism and energy deposited. I imagine there has to be some way to decide what is a valid target as trying to zap sphinx moths and such would be futile.
Laser safety is pretty complex, look it up. Pretty much anything past 1450 nm or so is “eye safe”, or as sometimes said “eye safer”. NIR (700 – 1400 nm) makes it to the retina, and frankly I wouldn’t want invisible coherent radiation like that flying around me when I’m at the barbie. I wear LEP all day as it is and I’m glad to take it off. Forget visible.

Mickey Reno
February 22, 2016 7:32 am

If we want to get rid of mosquitoes, I think we get the most bang for our buck by stopping the killing of bats by wind turbines.

Reply to  Mickey Reno
February 22, 2016 7:46 am


Reply to  Mickey Reno
February 22, 2016 10:47 am

The summers when we’ve had wrens nesting on our porch have been the best years for mosquitoes. Those guys would make about 2000 visits a day carrying a beakful of insects.

February 22, 2016 7:33 am

This idea of killing mosquitoes is the wrong approach. Social engineering is the answer. Get the social scientists together to communicate to the mosquitoes the great contributions they (mosquitoes) have made to society and they should coexist peacefully with mankind. Offer safe spaces for the mosquitoes and have the media drone on about how the mosquitoes need to be respected and accepted as an alternate viewpoint for diversity. Then claim genocide and speciesism for anyone even thinking about zapping a poor little defenseless insect. Shame any and all swatters. Make the people understand that mosquitoes’ lives matter and their need to accept that ASAP before it’s too late. Stephan Lewandowsky can take the lead on this. Maybe even show that mosquitoes are the only thing that is saving us from the dreaded Global Warming!
I won’t include a sarc tag here as it makes as much sense as some policy directives that are in motion in today’s world.

February 22, 2016 7:43 am

Does PETA know about this?

Sweet Old Bob
February 22, 2016 7:58 am

Killing mosquitoes with a lightning bolt ….now where have I heard that before ?

Don B
February 22, 2016 8:03 am

Alarmist Justin Gillis in the New York Times:
“Scientists say it will take them years to figure that out, and pointed to other factors that may have played a larger role in starting the crisis. But these same experts added that the Zika epidemic, as well as the related spread of a disease called dengue that is sickening as many as 100 million people a year and killing thousands, should be interpreted as warnings.
“Over the coming decades, global warming is likely to increase the range and speed of the life cycle of the particular mosquitoes carrying these viruses, encouraging their spread deeper into temperate countries like the United States.”

February 22, 2016 8:25 am

It seems more of a regulatory and safety problem than a technical one, although safety is also a technical problem. The public may also be afraid of lasers. It must be very satisfactory to go all SDI on the mosquitos and shoot them out of the sky but there are other techniques with satisfactory results, such as the blue(ish) lamp with an electric coil on the perimeter. Gives off a very satisfactory sound at least.

February 22, 2016 8:28 am

All I want are some frickin’ frogs with frickin’ laser beams attached to their frickin’ heads.

Jim A.
February 22, 2016 8:34 am

If you focus the laser beam so it is only energy dense at the point of impact, then you don’t need to worry about downrange hazards, as the beam will be diverging and not sufficiently energy dense to damage anything after a few dozen feet. If the beam was large enough at the point of delivery into the system, you could conceivably reduce the hazardous energy downrange significantly more. Think about when you were a kid, you used a magnifying glass to set a dry leaf on fire with the sun. When focused to a tiny spot, there was a lot of energy on that spot. When it was defocused, it wouldn’t burn. Same concept. I’d LOVE, love, love, a mosquito targeting laser in my backyard. Extra points if they actually burst into tiny puffs of flame upon impact with the beam spot.

Reply to  Jim A.
February 22, 2016 10:38 am

Once in a while, you buzz a dry leaf or paper and start a fire.

February 22, 2016 9:28 am


February 22, 2016 9:46 am

Around 1958/59 I read a science fiction story about an automatic ant-aircraft gun that used radar to locate and identify targets. I used to fantasize about a version that would shoot down the flies that were such a nusiance in Australia. Nice to see that the idea is approaching practicality.

February 22, 2016 9:47 am

I’ve thought of this notion , but to be safe the laser beam would have to be focused at the distance to the fly ( that’s our pest at 2500m ) , and perhaps spread first to limit the focused length .
That might be possible reflecting the expanded beam off of a DLP .

Manfred Schropp
February 22, 2016 9:56 am

A few commenters did already mention that several, maybe about 10, years ago this was shown on TV. I believe I saw this demonstrated on the Today Show on NBC. If I remember correctly, this device was built by some laid off engineers who had formerly worked for the defense sector.
It consisted of some sort of digital tracking system, a high speed, fairly low power laser, and other hardware. They developed it on a lark. You just can imagine a bunch of engineers sitting around a BBQ with a few beers at hand saying “Wouldn’t it be great, if we could….”
They had a demonstration at the studio and released a large number of mosquitos inside a plexiglass box and triggered their system. All the mosquitos died within a few seconds. They had rigged a high speed camera to show what happened in slow motion. The system worked far too fast for the human eye. I believe it could kill hundreds of mosquitos per second.
They basically shot the wings off, by far the most sensitive part of the insect and requiring the least power to take them out. A mosquito without wings is no danger to humans. At the time they did mention that based on the different wing beat frequencies between male and female mosquitos they could solely focus on taking out the female mosquitos. I believe a women’s rights organization took offense to that.
In California we have the West Nile virus, dangerous for people above the age of 50. In 2008 I met a former fighter pilot. He had survived three wars unscathed: WW2, the “police action” in Korea, and Vietnam. Sometime before 2008 he got stung by a mosquito carrying the West Nile virus and ended up paralyzed on the left side of his body. WNV can also call blindness or death.
Put the device on a 20 ft or higher pole (mosquitos generally fly below that height) with 360 degree vision and engagement systems and have it shoot downward. If you have the right frequency and technical solution it should be harmless to everything except the targeted species and gender and not bleed outside the perimeter of your backyard.
Hook it up to WiFi and combine it with a smartphone app to give you the stats on kills in full auto mode and give people the ability to engage individual mosquitos and make a game out of it. They can play against their buddies in the backyard or online. You could make millions of Dollars selling that game.

Reply to  Manfred Schropp
February 22, 2016 10:28 am

Only female mosquitoes bite. Decommissioning only the females makes things easier, since only one wing beat frequency needs to be considered. The remaining males don’t bite and don’t reproduce.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Muminabad
February 22, 2016 10:26 am

There is a system available that will shoot down 2000 mozzies per second but they are illegal to use. It is a sort of laser curtain. I have wanted one for years.

Reply to  Crispin in Waterloo but really in Muminabad
February 22, 2016 10:42 am

If illegal then where are the DIY videos and instructions for modified versions? I mean it must be a little easier than the online H-bomb assembly.

February 22, 2016 12:42 pm

Can we turn this into a real video game for the kids? Something like asteroids, “Mosq-Zapper 5” type thing. This whole idea is just so cool in the geek techy sense.

Reply to  TRM
February 22, 2016 1:18 pm

Use Deet, let the bats, birds and fish eat the mosquitoes. And yes, there are still mosquito repellents containing Deet – at least that is what is on the label of the bottle in my fishing gear.

February 22, 2016 1:21 pm

Using references from a disgraced “encyclopedia” like Wikipeadia should be used with caution or NOT at all. It has ZERO credibility..

February 22, 2016 1:32 pm

As someone who used to shoot laser pulses into the sky (to track satellites and targets on the moon), and from airplanes to the ground (to create 3-D maps of the world), I assure you—you need to be aware of where the energy goes and what it’s power level is for the eye. It’s certainly possible to build such a defense, but the system needs to be engineered to be eye safe.

February 22, 2016 3:21 pm

Not that I have a problem with the laser idea, but the Zika pandemic hysteria seems to be outrunning the actual evidence. I refer you to this article from early February that suggests a potential problem with the reporting of the issue:
From the article:
By end of Jan this year, 4,783 suspected cases of microcephaly were reported in Brazil
3,670 of those are under investigation
in 404 of those, microcephaly or other central nervous alterations* have been confirmed
and finally a total of 17 of those confirmed microcephaly cases had any connection at all with the Zika virus
*(and that’s another issue, that it’s microcephaly “and other stuff”, as it were, but Zika is not suspected of causing the latter, so the connection between the virus and microcephaly seems even shakier)
Brazilian researcher are also reporting their doubts on the Zika-microcephaly connection, calling it circumstantial and not yet proven scientifically (as does the WHO) and pointing out in particular that there is so far no knowledge of how and when exactly in utero the virus would hinder brain development, given that this particular family of viruses has not been shown to have an effect on fetal brain development.
At least until now. Sadly, I do know from personal experience that the absence of evidence of something affecting fetal development is not, in fact, evidence of absence, and finding yourself in such circumstances can turn a very personal disaster into a medical case study demonstrating newfound evidence, but I thought that’s worth pointing out anyway.
An evidence-based approach to medicine would classify the current goings-on as unfounded hysteria, especially given that microcephaly does occur regularly elsewhere without any connection to Zika. It is indeed rare, but the US for instance has 2500 reported cases per year out of 4 million births and in this article
http://www.sfgate.com/news/medical/article/Brazil-270-of-4-120-suspected-microcephaly-cases-6787928.php (dated earlier, hence the small difference in numbers),
US researchers actually question whether the reported sudden rise of microcephaly cases is not in fact an artifact of the recent change in data collection. The article suggests that 150 cases out of about 3 million births in Brazil in 2014 seems artificially low, and that the changes in reporting and registering cases may be responsible for the increase in numbers.
You can draw your own conclusions about the wisdom of the WHO freaking out thousands of pregnant women and scaring thousands more off becoming pregnant, given that they have acknowledge that they there’s not even any proof of a weak link between Zika and microcephaly, but only a circumstantial one based on no evidence (as yet).

Reply to  Charlie
February 22, 2016 3:36 pm

Just found a paper that says 25,000 cases of microcephaly in infants are diagnosed each year in the US. That rather contradicts the 2,500 I quoted from the second article above and casts even more doubt on Brazil’s claim of only 150 cases in 2014.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19752457 (free)

Don in MN
Reply to  Charlie
February 23, 2016 6:36 pm

Best comment on this post . . . funny how so many GW skeptics turn into true believers of government science when the subject is something other than climate.

February 22, 2016 5:03 pm

imagine a machine that can shoot low concentration mists of DDT at mosquitoes

Ian Macdonald
February 22, 2016 11:36 pm

The insectocutor principle would be safer. If a means can be found to attract the mosquitoes into a given place, zap them there under a shield. Pheremones?

Ian Macdonald
February 22, 2016 11:42 pm

Or, a simulated human with a thin insulating layer on the surface and 10,000v underneath. Make the punishment fit the crime.

February 23, 2016 3:23 am

I think this device was described in David Brin’s 1990 novel “Earth”.

February 23, 2016 4:40 am

How about just putting retro-fitted standard bug zappers in the woods that have no UV light but DO have a small tank that emits a steady stream of CO2, which attracts them even in the dark? Oh I forgot, CO2 is a poison worse than DDT, worse than Hitler.

February 23, 2016 7:10 am

Lasers might zap mozzies nicely but they are problematic.
They damage people’s eyes.
Thus criminal sociopaths shoot then at jet liners’ pilots.
A better anti-mosquito technology might be an acoustic wave that would take them out.

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