Gates Foundation awards grant for malaria mosquito laser

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently awarded a $1 million grant to an astrophysicist developing a laser that can be used to stop malaria-spreading mosquitoes.

Columbia University associate professor Szabolcs Marka normally spends his time investigating questions of celestial importance, such as what would happen when two black holes merge, but had the idea several years ago that light could be used to interfere with the sensory systems of flying insects, according to the

"I wanted to apply my astrophysics, optics, laser expertise towards some humanitarian goal that can help people," Marka said, reports. "I had this idea that maybe that optics and light can repel or affect insects, and maybe that can be used to eradicate malaria."

Working with his wife ZsuZsa and colleague Imbre Bartos, Marka used his expertise to create a laser barrier, a wall of light that insects will not cross.

"We stumbled on this," Marka said, according to "If you have an invisible wall of light, how will mosquitoes and fruit flies react? They do walk or fly into it. Then they turn back. They don't want to cross it."

The Gates Foundation initially gave Marka $100,000 in 2008 to continue his work. The results were impressive enough for his team to be one of only five follow-up grants in the Foundation’s Grand Challenges in Global Health Program.

Marka said he still does not understand why his invention works.

"The mosquitoes are probably scared," Marka said, reports. "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."