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Innovations

-- A new electrochemical process uses an 80C bath of water and sodium nitrite to make stainless steel harder and less brittle. Developed at Cambridge University in England, the new method involves passing electricity through the solution for three hours or so to destroy brittle microstructures on the surface of the steel. One possible application: razor blades that stay sharper longer.

-- NASA is trying to cut the wind drag on supersonic planes by projecting microwaves into the air ahead of them. The microwaves scramble air molecules into a plasma, or energized soup of ions, which offers less resistance than normal air. Lower drag means planes could go farther or fly faster. NASA is also exploring whether the plasma slipstream might make planes less visible to enemy radar.By Petti Fong


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