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New Laser Zaps Mosquitoes in Slow-Motion Video

A new laser system can kill mosquitoes without harming other insects, as shown in slow-motion video. It's all part of the effort to combat malaria.

© 2010 National Geographic; video courtesy Intellectual Ventures


Unedited Transcript:

Scientists have developed a hand-held laser that can kill mosquitoes in high volume. And they’re hoping that this will help combat one of the world’s most deadly diseases.

A high-speed video camera that captures up to 6,000 frames per second was used by a company called Intellectual Ventures to show the invention in action.

But first, to study the flight dynamics of mosquitoes, the scientists recorded their flight movements. In this video, tiny suspended water droplets, illuminated by a green laser, show the movement of air around the mosquito’s wing.

In this video, a mosquito’s flight was recorded, and we’re seeing it in extreme slow motion.

To get this footage, the mosquito was placed in a custom designed chamber that sensed when the mosquito flew through the focal plane of the camera.

Later, after studying the data, and setting up the system, the mosquitoes are struck and killed by lasers. Here (3rd video, 2nd clip) you can see the laser strike… parts of the mosquito breaking off… and the body falling to the ground.

If played in real time, these segments would be about one-tenth of a second long.

The goal of this research is combating malaria, a disease spread through tropical regions of the world by mosquitoes. Nearly a million people die of the disease each year.

Intellectual Ventures says their involvement began with a challenge from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

To set up their system, the scientists created what they call a Photonic Fence, which, in the field, (photo) would have a beam of infrared light between fence posts. The system detects mosquitoes and shoots them down. The inventors claim all the laser parts came from inexpensive consumer electronics.

They also claim the system can distinguish between different insects. It would only target mosquitoes, and let others, such as butterflies and bumblebees, to pass through unharmed.

The system can even distinguish between male and female mosquitoes, based on their wing beats. This is important, because only female mosquitoes bite humans.