LSU Researcher Thinks He's Found a Creative Way to Control Mosquito-borne Diseases

Article by Ted Griggs of The Baton Rouge Advocate.

Sheriff’s deputy, sociologist, pilot, used car dealer, importer, entrepreneur, engineer, researcher, linguist, dreamer.

Charles Malveaux is or has been all those things. He’s currently a doctoral candidate in LSU’s College of Engineering. He designs and builds his own drones. He thinks they can prevent mosquito-borne illnesses, like malaria and West Nile virus. He expects his dissertation will involve creating a two-drone system: one to map standing water and mosquito-breeding areas; the other, guided by GPS and armed with 20 pounds of larvicide, to spray the trouble spots.

East Baton Rouge Parish will serve as the demonstration site. Malveaux, the LSU AgCenter and the city-parish are hammering out the details of the agreement.

Meanwhile, Malveaux’s already working to patent the concept. He plans to mass-produce the drones in China. He’s got an advantage there because he already speaks Chinese — Mandarin, to be specific. Malveaux studied the language in Taiwan because he wanted to get the accent right.

“I didn’t realize I had a gift for learning languages fast until I went to China. … Within a week and a half, I was at the store buying a cellphone, speaking Chinese,” Malveaux said.

Within three weeks, Malveaux had snagged a gig as an interpreter for an American-born Chinese girl who was vacationing in Taipei.

That might be the classic Malveaux anecdote. It’s the kind of adventure that results from a certain mind-set, one that might be summarized as follows:

Step 1 : Start with an idea, one most people would say is impossible or at best impractical.

Step 2 : Disregard those people.

Step 3 : End up exactly where you are supposed to be.

For example, somewhere around the time Malveaux was studying Chinese, he decided it would be fun to get a pilot’s license. And not long after that, he began his drone research. Now, the former may help him commercialize the latter.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s proposed drone regulations would require commercial operators to hold a pilot’s license. Malveaux is the co-owner of Atmosphere Aerial, a drone cinematography and photography company. If the regulations went into effect today, Malveaux would be one of the few, if not the only, people in Louisiana who could legally operate a commercial drone.

However, the Malveaux method has a few drawbacks. Among other things, it doesn’t produce a linear career path.

Malveaux’s first real job was as a deputy. He liked helping people, but something was missing. He had always liked engineering and thought about pursuing it at McNeese State University. But he was working full-time in the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office. Sociology was easier and quicker, and it made sense from a law enforcement standpoint. The more Malveaux understood why people behaved the way they did, the better he could help them.

Still, engineering’s allure never faded. Malveaux believed he could help more people in that field. He decided to get a master’s in engineering from LSU.

It took Malveaux a while to get there, with a number of side trips along the way. When the mini-motorcycle craze hit, Malveaux saw an opportunity to make some money importing the bikes from China. But the smallest lot of bikes he could buy was a container load. He didn’t have that kind of money, so he convinced a colleague to loan him the cash. He then spent months knocking on doors and beating the bushes to find buyers. Eventually, he sold all the bikes. While in grad school, Malveaux also worked weekends for a law firm, putting his law enforcement experience to use interviewing clients.

Steven Hall, an AgCenter associate professor and Malveaux’s co-adviser, has been at the AgCenter for 15 years. In that time, he has taught about 100 doctoral students.

“We have had one sociologist and one psychologist, and, frankly, I didn’t think either one of them were going to make it in engineering,” Hall said. “Both of them did. But both of them were very unusual people.”

Malveaux started out as a kind of wannabe engineer with some technical ability. But Malveaux’s undergraduate degree was devoid of engineering courses. LSU fixed that.

“We basically put him through all the hardest undergraduate courses. He took statics and dynamics and thermodynamics and heat transfer, fluid dynamics, all kinds of horrible stuff,” Hall said. “And he did fine. He’s got a 3.9 GPA in his graduate coursework. He’s brilliant. … He’s the real deal.”

Now the question becomes, what will Malveaux do with all of his abilities?

Malveaux hopes to change the planet.

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