7 Government-Sponsored Inventions You Didn't Know About

In a recent article published in the New York Times, 50 Nobel laureates wrote to Congress asking them to refrain from making government research-and-development spending cuts. The federal government supports both basic and applied research through a variety of agencies. We’ve all heard about the big spinoff inventions from government research and development, but what about some of the lesser known products? 

The following are technologies that have come from just NASA alone:

1. New and Improved Ice Free Switch


 

Developed at the Ames Research Center in Canton, Ohio, NASA scientists created a biodegradable anti-freeze solution in order to combat the ice on wings that prohibits planes and shuttles from flying. The technology, licensed by the Midwest Industrial supply, was added in 2012 to the Ice Free Switch to prevent train switches from freezing over. The new IFS is easier to apply and stays on vertical areas better than the old model.

2. Twin-City Fans


 

In 2010, NASA created an alloy four times stronger than regular aluminum to be used in high-temperature combustion engines. NASA patented the technology, and has licensed it to the Twin City Fan. This fan meets European safety standards and functions in tunnels at temperatures up to 752 degrees Fahrenheit. The fan currently comes in three sizes, and its compact design lowers construction costs.

3. “Thermocules”


Outlast Technologies, Inc. licensed NASA’s dry heat-capturing technology used in space suits to help maintain astronaut's body temperatures. Outlast technologies uses this 2004 technology in outdoor gear ranging from boots, pants, and jackets to socks and underwear.

4. Dichroic glass


Regular clear coatings do nothing to protect astronauts from the harmful levels of radiation that exist in space. In the Johnson Space Center in Pennsylvania, NASA scientists created a transparent, ultra-thin metal coating that can prevent radiation from reaching the human body. J.L. Crystal Artistry, a California company that has designed crystal pieces for former U.S. and Pope John Paul II, uses this technology to enhance its art by giving it additional texture and hues.

5. The Low Plasticity Burnishing Process


Developed in Cincinnati, Ohio, this process was originally intended to create a longer lifespan for engine components. However, this process has been used in hip replacements to make sure that patients don’t need to go in for future replacements.

6. Cleaning Bacteria


Ever wonder how resources are conserved on the International Space Station? NASA has developed a photosynthetic bacteria capable of breaking down toxic chemicals astronauts could encounter on the ISS, and through the Small Business Innovation Research Program contracts, this strain of bacteria was adapted to be able to clean up crude oil spills. It can also be used to clean and filter wastewater with organic wastes.

7. G-Trainer Treadmills


When in space, astronauts may suffer muscle degeneration from lack of use. NASA scientists at the Ames Research Center found a way to use air pressure to add force, so that even in space astronauts could exercise. The same technology has been applied to rehabilitation treadmills that minimize impact for injured athletes.

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Katherine Foley

Katherine is a rising senior at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University studying energy and environmental policy. She is interested particularly in innovation policy, and finding the intersection between science and the human experience. In addition to being a full-time student, Katherine is a resident advisor, a research assistant and enjoys training for half and full marathons.

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