Since 2014, when SUNY New Paltz’s Hudson Valley Additive Manufacturing Center (HVAMC) made a splashy public debut by creating a prosthetic hand for a six-year-old boy using 3D printing technology, the on-campus laboratory — recently relocated to the building known as the Engineering Innovation Hub — has mostly been working under the radar. Its partnership projects with businesses are often manufactured under non-disclosure agreements because, according to HVAMC director and dean of Science and Engineering Dan Freedman, “They don’t want their competitors to know what they’re up to. But this is nice, because Cornell wanted to get as much publicity as possible.”
The current project to which he’s referring is a partnership with the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Ulster County: creating 3D models of the spotted lanternfly (SLF) to help farmers identify and report sightings of the species. True-to-life replicas of the highly invasive insect will be printed and distributed to farmers across the region.
First discovered in the US in 2014, the spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is a most unwelcome immigrant from East Asia that has already established a destructive presence in eastern Pennsylvania and spread into New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia. A brilliant hitchhiker, it lays its inconspicuous egg masses on nearly anything from tree trunks and rocks to firewood and even vehicles. So, it’s only a matter of time before SLF becomes a problem in our state, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation. The first specimen found in New York, in the fall of 2017, was a dead insect in Delaware County. In 2018, SLFs were reported in Albany, Monroe, Yates and Suffolk Counties.
The SLF’s favorite food is the invasive tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), but it’s known to feed on the sap of more than 70 plant species. Fruit trees and grapevines are being especially hard-hit in Pennsylvania. Hops are also a favored host, as are nut trees. So, this creature’s imminent arrival in the Hudson Valley, with its resurgent agricultural economy, is cause for serious concern. “It can have a big economic impact. It goes after a lot of fruit crops in the area,” says Freedman. “We’re taking it very seriously.”
State residents, especially farmers, are being asked to keep a sharp eye out for signs of its presence. But since the SLF is a new pest to us, people need to be familiarized with the insect’s appearance. This past September, the Kingston office of CCE approached HVAMC with a request to manufacture life-sized acrylic facsimiles of SLFs in all three of their developmental stages. “They asked us to design it and send out as many copies as needed,” Freedman says.
Appearing in July, a live adult lanternfly is an eye-catching sight. An inch long and half an inch wide at rest, its forewings have black spots against a grayish background that may appear opalescent when closed. The hindwings are truly striking: The lower portions are red with black spots, the upper portions dark with a white stripe. When the insect takes flight, the bright flash of red is hard to miss. Nymphs, which are black with white spots and turn red before transitioning into adults, begin to emerge in April.
HVAMC was able to fulfill CCE’s request because of two rare resources, the first being a state-of-the-art 3D printer called the Stratasys J735. An earlier edition of this product line, notes HVAMC’s assistant director, Kat Wilson, was used to print all the figures used in Laika Studios’ 2009 stop-motion animated film Coraline. “We just got this last summer. It will do full Pantone colors,” says Freedman. Most 3D printers function “like the tip of a glue gun. This one is like a very fancy inkjet printer head. Instead of jetting ink, it jets a resin, 20 microns thick: half the width of a human hair. Then it cures into a solid under ultraviolet light. Others print one color at a time; this one can pull from seven color cartridges at one time.”
The other secret ingredient in HVAMC’s recipe for success is the artists on its staff: Three of them have art degrees, including Wilson, who has an MFA in Metal. The program was conceived from the get-go as an interdisciplinary one combining science, engineering and art. “Kat designed the bugs. It took a lot of experimentation to get the color right,” says Freedman. “This is not a project you could do without an artist…It’s hard to tell from a real bug. That’s a combination of Kat’s skill and the capability of the printer.”
The tiny insect models are encased in cubes of clear acrylic to protect them from abrasion while being carried around to sites where the SLF might be lurking. “We put a hole in the bottom to put a magnet in. It would make a repulsive refrigerator magnet, but very effective,” Freedman notes with a laugh. “I figure, with a magnet, you could put it on the dashboard of a tractor.”
About 120 sets of SLFs in their various instars comprised CCE’s first order, but more may be on the way, as interest in this project spreads throughout the state and beyond. “These will go to farmers, extension agents — anybody they want to have keeping a lookout for the lanternfly,” says Freedman. “As far as we know, this hasn’t been done before. We’ve got someone from the FDA interested…and Stratasys is going to do a case study on this.”
Readers interested in obtaining copies of the SLF models should contact Jim O’Connell, senior agriculture resource educator at CCE of Ulster County, by calling (845) 340-8990, extension 390, or e-mailing email@example.com. To learn more about the spotted lanternfly, visit www.dec.ny.gov/animals/113303.html and www.youtube.com/watch?v=87s1KytPgWY.
“This was a cool project,” says Dan Freedman. “You feel like you’re doing some good for an important segment of our economy.”