Huge problem: Malaria kills millions, but you can’t just spray DDT anymore to wipe out disease-carrying mosquitoes (DDT also wipes out, oh, majestic bald eagles). What do do?

You could search for another toxin to spray. Or, if you’re 3ric Johanson at Intellectual Ventures Laboratory, you could invent a new gadget. A gadget that tracks mosquitoes and blasts them out of the air with lasers.

IVL’s Photonic Fence is audacious making, and only MAKE Volume 23 shows you exactly how they did it. In “Beam Weapon for Bad Bugs,” Johanson takes you inside IVL and explains their technology and how his team solved four key problems to make it work: spot the bugs, target ’em, identify ’em (only females mosquitos bite — you knew that), and then blast ’em in milliseconds.

Along the way you’ll learn about computer vision software, mirror galvanometers, mosquito wing-beat frequency, and how to make what can’t be made, when you want to do what can’t be done.

Bonus: Make: Online has an behind-the-scenes tour of Intellectual Ventures Lab and their ultimate maker workshop for electronics, photonics, machining, culinary arts, and more, at makezine.com/23/mosquito.

From the pages of MAKE Volume 23:
MAKE Volume 23, Gadgets

This special issue is devoted to machines that do delightful and surprising things. In it, we show you how to make a miniature electronic Whac-a-Mole arcade game, a tiny but mighty see-through audio amp, a magic mirror that contains an animated soothsayer, a self-balancing one-wheeled Gyrocar, and the Most Useless Machine (as seen on The Colbert Report!). Plus we go behind the scenes and show you how Intellectual Ventures made their incredible laser targeting mosquito zapper — yes, it’s real, and you wish you had one for your patio barbecue. All this and much, much more.

Keith Hammond

Keith Hammond

I’m projects editor of MAKE magazine.

  • Mark

    I really wish people would do homework on REAL science. The belief that ddt is harmful was perpetrated by one of the first mainstream environmentalists Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring. There is no scientific basis for her claims and studies performed to try and support her claims were rigged (feeding birds a calcium deficient diet to reduce egg shell thickness) Since 1999 over 4.5 BILLION people have gotten malaria, 28 million have died. Scientists believe that if DDT had been used, at this point 98% of the worlds malaria would be wiped out.



    • Keith Hammond

      Thanks, Mark! It’s true some believe DDT can be used safely in localized applications (like on the walls of a house). But because DDT is an organochlorine toxin that can disrupt the hormones of animals, including people, there’s wide agreement that widespread spraying is unwise.

      I looked into your source on DDT: the American Council on Health and Science. Turns out they’re a PR organ for some big polluters, including the chemical industry. (They’re known for defending arsenic in wood products, PCBs in seafood, secondhand cigarette smoke, and such.) Also, their executive director, Dr. Gilbert Ross, spent a year in prison for medical fraud. Oh, the irony:


      It’s a big question though, I’d be interested in more credible sources on costs/benefits of DDT for vector control.

      Meanwhile … blasting mosquitoes “with frickin laser beams” is still cool!

      Check out the magazine and let us know what you think!

      • Mark

        Ok, I agree that that was probably not the best reference. In my defense I had read articles from reputable sources saying much the same thing (however this was several years ago and I cannot recall the exact source)

        The fact remains that the majority of the DDT ban was pushed by Carson’s book. A judge ignored months of testimony and over a hundred witnesses when he banned DDT. I have read accounts of scientists stating that DDT disappeared (was reduced to untraceable levels) just over 30 days after introduction to the environment.

        “After seven months of hearings, which produced 9,362 pages of testimony by 125 witnesses, EPA Judge Edmund Sweeney ruled against EDF, Audubon and the Carson coterie, saying that according to the evidence, “DDT is not a carcinogenic hazard to man…is not a mutagenic or teratogenic hazard to man…[and the] use of DDT under the regulations involved here do not have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds or other wildlife.” But Ruckelshaus quickly overruled Sweeney and banned DDT on Jan. 1, 1972. His decision had nothing to do with science or concern for the American people — Ruckelshaus never attended a day of the hearings and admitted that he never read the transcripts.”
        Excerp http://archive.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=16987

        J. Gordon Edwards, Ph.D. was renowned for eating a tablespoon of DDT before every lecture he gave on it’s safety(over 200 times the normal amount found in people under normal use)
        One of his papers was published shortly after he died outlining his opinion of the DDT Fraud.
        (He died of a heart attack while climbing Divide Mountain at Glacier National Park, he was 84 years old)

  • fischju

    Do they use much more power than necessary to insure a kill or just enough? It would probably be bad to have this system wiping out millions a week and having even .00001% survive it. Giant armored mosquitoes anyone?

  • jim

    I want one! Please tell me how to make one of these.
    Oh, and where I live (southeast) we have the asian tiger mosquitoes. I understand that both the male and female bite and around the clock. With bats under significant pressure these days we need something else to keep these little buggers under control.