NASA Spinoff

Dr. Dennis Morrison, a former scientist at Johnson Space Center, spent part of his 34-year career with NASA performing research on nanomaterials—materials 10,000 times smaller than a human hair. Specifically, Morrison’s research on nanoceramic materials started with the development of microcapsules, or tiny balloons the size of blood cells, designed to deliver cancer-fighting drugs by injection into solid tumors deep within the body.

Originally, these liquid-filled microballoons were made in low Earth orbit where the absence of gravity aided in the formation of the outer membrane. Eventually, these space-based experiments resulted in the development of a device that could make the drug-filled microcapsules on Earth.

Dr. Dennis Morrison retired from Johnson Space Center in 2006.
In order to release all of the contents of a microcapsule when and where a physician wanted them, Morrison developed special ceramic nanoparticles containing a unique mixture of metal oxides. When these metallic-ceramic composites were incorporated into the surface of the microcapsule and subsequently heated by a magnetic field such as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) diagnostic device, the composites produced negative or positive ions and heated to a predictable temperature. This caused the tiny ceramic-magnetic particles to melt holes in the microcapsule, and thereby release the drug contents on command. Eventual tests on human tumors grown in mice showed three small injections of the microcapsules within a 2-week period inhibited more than 50 percent of the tumor’s growth.


To exchange and share research on nanomaterials, Morrison attended nanotechnology conferences sponsored in part by NASA. At a 2001 conference in Galveston, Texas, Morrison met Farouk Shami, the founder and chairman of Farouk Systems Inc., a manufacturer of professional hair care and styling products in Houston. Shami asked Morrison about the latest ceramic applications in nanotechnology because he wanted to enhance the ceramic materials used in his company’s professional hairstyling tools. Specifically, Shami had developed slick ceramic coatings that emitted negative ions when heated.

After learning more from Morrison about ceramics containing special metal composites, Shami developed a unique ceramic composite and incorporated the material into his CHI (Cationic Hydration Interlink) hairstyling iron. When heated at low temperatures—roughly 180 to 200 ˚C—the metal components in the CHI ceramic released ions that proved beneficial for hairstyling. According to the company, the ions help to smooth and soften the hair, thus making it easier to manage and style.

“At Johnson, we were developing ceramic metallic components for triggering the release of drugs from microcapsules. I never had any idea that it might be beneficial to someone in the hair industry making a hair iron with ceramic plates,” says Morrison.

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