NASA Tries Hair-Raising Idea
AT NASA'S MARSHALL SPACE Flight Center in Huntsville are testing
an Alabama hairdresser's hair-raising technique of using human hair
to soak up oil spills. This could lead to a number of applications,
including reducing landfill waste, saving costs in oil spill cleanups
and recovering spilled oil for fuel.
Madison, Alabama, hairdresser Phillip McCrory was watching television
coverage of 1989's oil spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound. He
saw the oil-saturated fur of a sea otter and asked himself, "If
animal fur can trap and hold spilled oil, why can't human hair?"
He conducted a home experiment using five pounds of human hair he
had cut, collected and stuffed into a pair of his wife's pantyhose
tied into a ring. He filled his son's wading pool with water, put
the hair-filled hosiery ring into the center of the pool and poured
used motor oil into the middle.
McCrory found that human hair adsorbsrather than absorbsoil.
That is, instead of bonding with the hair, the oil gathers in layers
on the hair's surface, allowing for easy recovery and reuse of the
oil by simply squeezing it from the collection bundles.
McCrory researched and made sure his solution was unique. He found
patents similar to his idea that involved using sheep's wool and
duck feathers for in-demand items such as clothing and insulation,
but they do not adsorb as well as human hair.
"Human hair thousands of years old has been found in landfills,
and tons of human hair cut every day are tossed into landfills,"
McCrory said. Using the hair to clean up oil spills would both put
it to work and reduce the amount of waste material going into landfills,
he believes. Oil-saturated bundles of hair can be burned as fuel,
and the energy value contained in the collection bundles can be
Researchers at Marshall agreed to test McCrory's idea under controlled
laboratory conditions for potential use by NASA and other U.S. government
agencies. Successful preliminary field tests also influenced Marshall's
decision to test McCrory's system further.
In an initial test, David Glover, a chemical systems supervisor
for Marshall contractor BAMSI, Inc., filled a 55-gallon oil drum
with 40 gallons of water and 15 gallons of oil. "The mixture
was filtered through nylon bags filled with hair," said Glover.
"When the water was tested after just a single pass through
McCrory's innovative filter, only 17 parts of oil per million parts
of water remained."
McCrory estimates that 25,000 pounds of hair in nylon collection
bags may be sufficient to adsorb 170,000 gallons of spilled oil.
Preliminary tests show that a gallon of oil can be adsorbed in less
than two minutes with McCrory's method.
There is also a potential cost savings in McCrory's method. Present
oil cleanup methods cost approximately $10 to recover a gallon of
oil. McCrory's system may cost as little as $2 per gallon and offers
the additional benefit of being able to use the recovered oil for
fuel. McCrory has founded and is president of his own company, BEPS
Inc. of Madison, Alabama.
For more information, contact Liz Rodgers at Marshall Space Flight
Call: 256/544-2647, Fax: 256/544-3151, E-mail: elizabeth.b.rodgers@
Please mention you read about it in Innovation.
HUBBLE OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM
Hubble Space Telescope has advanced our understanding of the
universe as well as the quality of health, safety and life
on Earth through a variety of technological spinoffs. The
Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University
in Baltimore, Maryland, operates the Hubble and has been selected
to manage science operations for the Next Generation Space
Telescope (NGST), Hubble's critical follow-on project to continue
delivering world-class optical and infrared science well into
the new millennium. NGST will perform observations of the
first stars and galaxies to help understand their formation
after the Big Bang.
became apparent that the most cost-effective and scientifically
sound way to proceed was to expand the Institute's responsibilities
to include the management of NGST," said Dr. Wesley T.
Huntress, Jr., Associate Administrator for NASA's Office of
Space Science at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. "We
can now count on at least a seven-year continuation of their
outstanding efforts, rather than closing the doors to the
facility after the Hubble mission ends in 2010," he added.
will have capabilities currently unavailable in existing ground-based
or space telescopes. The Hubble's Charged Coupled Device (CCD)
technology, silicon chips that convert light directly into
electronic or digital images, has produced successful commercial
Breast ImagingNoninvasive and nonsurgical breast biopsy
systems give more clear and efficient breast imaging, saving
women time, pain, scarring, radiation exposure and money.
Generated HologramsThe extremely precise mirrors that
corrected Hubble's vision were tested by the same holograms
that test microprocessor chips for the production of smaller
and more densely packed computer chips.
Imaging SystemImage correction and microprocessing
provide an undistorted, real-time, flat-view image from
anywhere in a hemispherical field, for use in security and
surveillance, teleconferencing, imaging, broadcasting and
MonitoringSensors view traffic activity and produce
optional still and video images.
Hubble, NASA learned the importance of involving scientists
early in the major mission science and operations planning.
are under way, and NGST's formal development is expected in
2003, with a projected launch in 2007, an operational lifetime
of ten years and expected operating costs from $15 million
to $25 million per year.
information, contact Bernard Seery at Goddard Space Flight
Call: 301/286-5712, E-mail: Bernard.D.Seery@gsfc.nasa.gov
Please mention you read about it in Innovation.