Sunday, March 15, 2009

Zapping Skeeters

And what has Tom Daddy been up to?

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a project I’ve been deeply involved in at my day job: “Rocket Scientists Shoot Down Mosquitoes With Lasers” (by Rob Guth). I’ve had the pleasure of frying mosquitoes with lasers, all in an effort to combat malaria. And now that we’ve published something on it, I can talk about it (somewhat).

Burning mosquitoes. With. Lasers.

Demonstrating the technology recently, Dr. Kare, Mr. Myhrvold and other researchers stood below a small shelf mounted on the wall about 10 feet off the ground. On the shelf were five Maglite flashlights, a zoom lens from a 35mm camera, and the laser itself -- a little black box with an assortment of small lenses and mirrors. On the floor below sat a Dell personal computer that is the laser's brain.

The glass box of mosquitoes across the room is an old 10-gallon fish tank. Each time a beam strikes a bug, the computer makes a gunshot sound to signal a direct hit.

To locate individual mosquitoes, light from the flashlights hits the tank across the room, creating tiny mosquito silhouettes on reflective material behind it. The zoom lens picks up the shadows and feeds the data to the computer, which controls the laser and fires it at the bug.

A long way from deployment, then. Still, this could be a great tool.

And, yes, I'm looking forward to buying a 'Skeeter Zap' at Wal-Mart in a few years.

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