InnoCentive Seeker Spotlight: SunNight Solar Works to Eradicate Malaria

Posted by Connie French on Jan 28, 2009 3:08:21 PM

We recently announced that a Challenge seeking the design of an affordable solar-powered device to prevent or limit the spread of malaria had been solved.  The Challenge was posted by Mark Bent, CEO of SunNight Solar.  Mark has been in the InnoCentive spotlight before, having previously posted a Challenge to create a solar powered light source for people living in off-grid areas of the world.

Mark's interest in eradicating malaria comes from his own personal experience, and from his ongoing desire to help the world's most vulnerable populations.  I asked Mark to provide some thoughts on the background of this Challenge, which he has kindly done in the post below.  Next week we'll hear from the Solver of this Challenge, Tom Kruer.

Innocentive and SunNight Solar have recently announced the results of our latest cooperative effort - development of a device to trap and kill the mosquito which is the vector for malaria. With 300-500 million cases of malaria each year, resulting in immense societal and economic costs, over a million deaths and a child in Africa dying every 30 seconds from this disease, this is an effort SunNight Solar is very pleased to push forward to the product testing and commercialization stage. Our thanks to Innocentive, as well as funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, which has made this all possible.

I also wanted to offer some insights and developments which surprised me, and once again, showed another value proposition in participating in the Innocentive platform and this unique development cycle. I lived in Africa for over two decades and have contracted malaria twice, so I have some idea of the impact this malady has on the human body. I have also had friends die and I have seen the full hospital wards, so I have some first hand knowledge of malaria. Regrettably, with global warming, the range of mosquito infestation will no doubt grow and more people will be impacted by this disease in the future, so finding new ways to attack this age old problem is essential.

We thought outside the box - the two main ways mosquitoes are controlled is either barriers - nets and window screens, or chemically, via insecticides or sprays. Both have advantages/disadvantages, but also have their limitations. You cannot stay indoors or under a net all of the time and chemicals have a number of unfortunate, and sometimes deadly, consequences. So, we offered a challenge - what can we do with solar energy to produce a device, under $10, to kill, repel or sterilize the female mosquito?

Frankly, I thought we would have some variation on power generation and battery storage - a photovoltaic panel which generates electricity, stored in rechargeable batteries, powering some device, much like our solar lights, and in fact, the majority of the offered solutions fell into this category. However, the solution we selected was in fact not power generation at all, but passive solar energy collection - a device which heats in the day's sun, retaining that heat in the evenings when the mosquito becomes active, thereby cleverly mimicking a warm human body at rest. What a great idea and one - without InnoCentive - I would never have considered on my own.

So, we are going to start producing this device within the next few weeks and hope to start field testing and deployment in the second quarter of 2009. The science and logic appears quite solid and we have high hopes this device will work effectively and become part of the human arsenal deployed against this deadly disease. Innocentive and SunNight Solar will openly report the results of the field testing - whether successful or a failure or somewhere in-between. I want to state emphatically, however, in my mind, this is already a success, because we are taking the chance, even with the risk of failure.

This is the unique value of the Innocentive/Rockefeller/SunNight Solar partnership - going out into new areas, taking risks, developing new approaches to age old problems - lighting at night, mosquito control - and doing it in a manner which brings together the brightest minds in the world and avoiding the ‘silo' approach of one company, one research and development department, only one team. With Rockefeller Funding, Innocentive open platform and the world's problems - this is the way to make a real difference in innovation and science. My personal thanks to all the solvers, the Innocentive team and the strong support from Rockefeller.



Topics: Seekers

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