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.