You're in the middle of a great chat with friends on a warm summer night, and then "ouch" a mosquito interrupts your conversation with a bite on your forearm. Experimental physicist Szabolcs Marka hopes to make this occurrence a thing of the past, but in this case it's not aerosol spray or roll-on-repellant keeping the bugs at bay, it's a wall of light.
Marka is working on a project that uses infrared light to form a barrier between humans and mosquitoes, as well as other common insects such as moths and wasps. The theory is that you can use light to form a wall that separates space. In a phenomenon not fully understood, the mosquitoes that are outside the wall seem blocked, as if by a semi-invisible fence.
"The mosquitoes are probably scared," Marka explained to Forbes. "They could go through the light barrier without getting hurt, but they don't. That's the beauty of it because you don't have to necessarily kill them. You just make them go away."
The technology is a simple one. A standard laser pointed in the direction of your choice to block the entryway to your home, or outdoor space. "Light is very easy to manipulate and shape to many geometrics with optics," says Marka.
Incidentally, laser-powered help might also be on the way for those who do want to put a dent in the mosquito population.
Szabolcs Marka was given US$100,000 in seed money for his idea in 2008, as well as a $1,000,000 donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation through the Grand Challenges Exploration grant.
The science has far-reaching implications in mosquito-ridden areas where malaria is prevalent. In Uganda alone, malaria is responsible for approximately 20-percent of all childhood deaths.
While a prototype for the mosquito repellant is probably several years away Marka's team is studying the effects of different types of light, as well as the intensity, color, and shapes that can ward off not only mosquitoes, but moths, wasps, and even bed bugs.
Cost figures don't exist just yet, but one would have to assume that simple laser technology wouldn't be cost-prohibitive.
Marka explains the project in the following Columbia University video:
See the stories that matter in your inbox every morning