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Zit Zapper

Support from NASA engineering helped create a new tool to fight acne.

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Numerous products are designed to both prevent acne and treat it, but many of these require you to repeatedly apply a medication that can have unwanted side effects. Personal experience inspired biological researcher Robert Conrad to develop a new way to fight pimples -- by zapping them. The Zeno is a hand-held device that uses heat to shock and kill P. acnes, the bacteria that cause acne.

Conrad built a prototype in his garage but wanted to market his device for consumer use. The problem was that his homegrown version was too expensive and bulky. It needed a smaller, more efficient heating element. Enter NASA's Space Alliance Technology Program, or SATOP. SATOP was created to provide NASA engineering support to small businesses that are tackling product design or engineering problems. Conrad's company, Tyrell, worked with SATOP through the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. SATOP put Conrad in contact with Allen J. Saad, a design engineer at Boeing Company, a long-time NASA contractor.

Saad's expertise led to a massive drop in the cost of the heating element -- from $80 to just 10 cents. The Zeno works by delivering just the right amount of heat to the bacteria at the base of the pimple to kill it without damaging the surrounding skin. In 2006, it was named the SATOP Texas Success Story of the Year, and now there are numerous spinoff devices to prevent and treat acne as well as wrinkles. Conrad has stated that without help from SATOP, "the product would likely still be in my garage" [source: Spinoff].

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