Mimicking the spider’s web, the team produced a ‘green’ trap for bedbugs
Shan He’s friend threw out his mattress and bought a new one. That didn’t solve his problem. A few weeks later, the bedbugs in his Boston bedroom continued to torment him. Eventually, he paid to have a team of cleaners scrub everything, which finally did the trick.
Through his work as a graduate student at Stony Brook, He has helped develop an eco-friendly solution that allows him to use high technology against bedbugs by mimicking one of the world’s most formidable insectivores: the spider.
He has helped develop a nontoxic trap. Creating fibers that are 1/50th the width of a human hair, he fabricated a lattice of threads that stick to the legs of an unsuspecting bedbug. When the bedbugs move, they become stuck to more of the miniature strands, trapping them even further. Immobilized, they can’t get to a food source: namely, blood.
Without food, the bedbugs die in the traps.
“We were approached by FiberTrap,” explained lead researcher Miriam Rafailovich, the co-director of the Program of Chemical and Molecular Engineering at Stony Brook. “They were very much into green solutions for pests. They had some idea about trapping them without chemicals. We realized the best way to do it is to use nanotechnology.”
Rafailovich said the traps could be put behind baseboards or around the legs of furniture.
“It’s like quicksand,” Rafailovich said. “As they soon as they come into the entrance, they can’t turn around. As soon as they hit the fiber, they’re trapped.”
The traps, which are still in development, don’t require any food or bait.
In keeping with the eco-friendly approach to eradicating an infestation of bedbugs, the Stony Brook team is working on making the traps biodegradable, so that users can throw them in landfills or even compost them, Rafailovich said.
“If you put this in a landfill, there isn’t any poison,” Rafailovich said. “You haven’t used any chemicals to kill them. It’s perfectly safe for birds and other scavenging animals to eat them.”
Rafailovich said a team of scientists worked on this project, including He, Ying Liu, a scientist with Stony Brook’s Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center and graduate student Linxi Zhang. The nanotechnology solution was developed at Stony Brook’s Center for Advanced Technology in Sensor Materials, which is funded by NYSTAR as a part of a statewide effort to encourage greater technological and economic collaboration between industry and research centers.
He’s expertise is in electrospinning of the nanofiber. He prepared a solution of a polymer — a man-made substance suspended in a liquid. Then, He put the liquid in a syringe and applied a high voltage to the solution between the syringe and a substrate, which is the surface where he wanted to create the trap.
A graduate student who is originally from Beijing, He described watching the bedbugs become immobilized in the fibers.
“The second the bedbugs got trapped, I was so excited,” he said. “The nanofeature from the bedbug matches the nanofeature from the fiber.”
He, who uses the English name Harry, lives in Stony Brook and has been on Long Island for close to three years. He used to work as an English teacher in China. He also host
-ed a TV show called Outlook English.
Stony Brook’s reputation had reached China because Chen Ning Yang, originally a Chinese citizen, had won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1957. Yang joined Stony Brook in 1966 and became the first director of its Institute for Theoretical Physics, which is now known as the C.N. Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics.
Yang is “very famous in China, which is how I heard of this school,” He said.
A classic guitar player, He has played Spanish guitar for more than 10 years.
He said his work on the bedbug project is particularly rewarding because of the practical component.
“I’ve been working on a lot of projects before, but all these projects are theory-based,” he said. “This is a really useful application. I think it can totally improve people’s lives.”
Rafailovich said this is just the beginning of the work Stony Brook might do to trap insects in an ecologically safe way. These traps might also be used for termites.
“We’re trying to improve it, to make it smaller,” Rafailovich said.