Ever since JK Rowling planted the 'invisibility cloak' seed, scientists all over the world have been rushing to be the first ones to make it a reality. Now there seems to be a winner - A tiny square sticker called Kite Patch. The only catch? It makes humans invisible only to mosquitoes!
Designed to be stuck on clothes, the colorful sticker that measures only 1.5 inches across, is the result of a collaboration of researchers from the University of California, Riverside and a team of scientists led by Dr. Michelle Brown at Los Angeles -based Olfactor Laboratories. And in case you are wondering, the team did not wave their wands and cast the sticker with Harry Potter's Evanesco spell. All their 'magic' is rooted in science!
They began by researching how these pesky insects target their prey. While mosquitoes may seem as though they are aiming directly for any exposed human body part as soon as they see it, turns out that such is not the case. They actually do not have very good eyesight. What they do have instead, are really good sensors. They begin hunting for the prey with the help of their chemical sensors that are strong enough to detect the carbon dioxide exhaled by humans and animals from up to 100 feet away. Once they get closer to their target the visual and heat sensors take over - While the former help them detect any moving color that contrasts with the background, the latter allows them to hone in by sensing the heat that all warm blooded animals generate.
The mosquito repellent sprays that are currently on the market work by distracting the insects with their own odor. Dr. Brown and her team decided to take a different approach and develop a chemical that masks the carbon dioxide odor, which is what alerts the insects of the presence of humans, thereby rendering them 'invisible' for up to 48 hours. The best part is that they have managed to accomplish this task without using any harmful chemicals.
While the magical patch has been very effective against the insects in the laboratory, its really test is about to begin in mosquito infested Africa. 400,000 Kite Patches will soon be making their way to the East African country of Uganda for a intense six month tryout period. Among the things the researchers will be looking for in the harsh Sub-Saharan conditions is if the patch works well irrespective of the time of day, as well as, if it can remain stuck to clothing that may not have been washed for a few days and even more important, be effective around dwellings made from cow dung.
The important feedback will be then be used to correct any design as well as technology flaws. Following that the laboratory hopes to get it ready for mass consumption. However, while the Kite Patch will certainly make patio dining a little more comfortable, that is not the reason it was developed.
It's main purpose it to save lives in developing nations like Africa, Southeast Asia and South America. According to the World Health Organization, more than 219 million people were infected with malaria in 2010 and 660,000, largely young children, lost their lives. Seattle based Health Metrics and Evaluation believes that the number of deaths is closer to 1.2 million. If this tiny patch can help save even a fraction of those people, it would be considered a huge victory in the battle against this tiny, but deadly insect.
Resources: ibtimes.com, wired.com,theguardian.com