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Soap for Hard Water

When water is cold or where it is hard--loaded with calcium or magnesium salts--soap washes poorly. In hard water, it forms a curd-like substance called lime soap, the culprit behind the bathtub ring.

ARS scientists at the USDA's Eastern Regional Research Laboratory in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, modified soap by blending it with other substances derived from tallow called "lime soap dispensing agents." The resulting detergents clean well in hard, soft, cold, and hot water. They biodegrade completely, contain no phosphates, and are nontoxic to humans and animals. They also make use of a surplus product: tallow. The research has been applied in several U.S. toilet soaps, including Zest and Lever 2000, and is being used for laundry soaps in several foreign countries.

Super Slurper 

In 1973, scientists at the USDA's National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Illinois (formerly the USDA's Northern Regional Research Laboratory), created saponified starch-graft polyacrylonitrile copolymers in which synthetic polymers are attached to starch. The unique property of the patented copolymers (USPN 3,935,099; 3,981,100; 3,985,616; 3,997,484; and 4,116,899) is that they can absorb 2,000 times their own weight in water. Because the scientific name was too cumbersome to catch on with anyone outside the scientific community, the ARS Information Office coined a more appropriate name- 'Super Slurper'. The name change, coupled with publicity, stimulated thousands of inquiries. Super Slurper has been improved severaltimes to create new and practical uses. Over the years, Super Slurper has found commercial life in products as varied as seed coatings, wound dressings, automobile fuel filters, and plastic mesh barriers used at construction sites.

Dwarf Easter Lilies

Because of disease problems with imported bulbs, USDA scientists working in 1903 on the National Mall in Washington, DC, began growing large numbers of Easter lilies (L. longiflorum) from seed and distributing disease-free stock to the industry. Differences in height among Easter lilies seedlings were noted and a breeding program was begun in 1918 to develop dwarf types. Each year "pounds" of selected dwarf seed were sent to Oregon growers for evaluation. In 1929, the first dwarf cultivar for potted-plant production was released. Prior to this release, lilies were tall plants and grown as a cut-flower crop. Besides developing the cultivars, beginning in 1935 systems for commercial propagation, production and disease control of Easter lily were developed. As a result of this research, the time of blooming could be controlled to make plants available in flower any day of the year. This ability to precisely control flowering was responsible for establishing the economically important Easter lily industry.



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