Hairstyling Tools with Nanomaterials
Optimus Prime Award

In 2010, NASA launched a video contest designed to promote spinoff technologies listed in the previous year's "Spinoff" journal. Students submit short videos that show how the technology was first developed and how its commercial application helps the public. NASA chose to work with Hasbro's "Transformers" due to the way that NASA technology is transformed into everyday use, as well as the sometimes undetectable, but helpful, ways in which it is implemented. The public votes on the submissions, posted on YouTube, and winners are chosen by a panel of NASA judges.

Astronauts don't worry much about styling their hair while in space -- they wash their locks using special, rinseless shampoos, but that's about the extent of it. However, haircare is big business on Earth, and companies are always looking for ways to improve their products. One decided to look to NASA technology for help. In 2001, haircare company founder Farouk Shami met NASA scientist Dr. Dennis Morrison at a nanotechnology conference. Dr. Morrison had spent decades researching nanoceramic materials -- tiny particles of ceramic that are 10,000 times smaller than a human hair. His work led to the creation of drug-filled microcapsules that could be injected into cancerous tumors.

Shami was interested in using nanoceramic materials on the surfaces of hairstyling tools such as flat irons. Based on what he learned from Morrison, he created a new ceramic and metal composite that released negative ions when heated. Shami's company, Farouk Systems, Inc., claims that the end result is smoother, shinier and more manageable hair. Shami has also created products incorporating nanosilver, originally researched by NASA as a way to keep surfaces clean in space. Because silver has antimicrobial properties, applying it in microscopic form to the surfaces of hairstyling tools makes them self-disinfecting.

After retiring from NASA in 2006, Dr. Morrison went to work for Farouk Systems. His latest project incorporates near-infrared light from LEDs (which he researched at NASA for its skin-healing properties) into products that claim to both speed hair-drying time and stimulate hair growth.