In the winter of 2009, Washington, DC, workers faced the prospect of a difficult commute due to record-setting snowfalls. But thousands of the city's Metrorail riders found the public transportation system fully functional, thanks in part to a NASA technology invented years before. Just like trains, an airplane must be snow- and ice-free to ensure safe travel. Traditionally, fluids containing a compound called ethylene glycol have been used to inhibit ice on planes. In 1992, however, the US Air Force banned its purchase of this ingredient due to toxicity concerns. According to the Centers for Disease Control, exposure to large amounts of ethylene glycol through air or water can damage the kidneys, nervous system, lungs, and heart. Urine samples from airport deicing workers have contained traces of the substance. At the time of the Air Force s ban, Robert Lockyer was working at NASA s Ames Research Center in the Advanced Composites Model Development Branch, where he says "we decided to pick up the gauntlet and began researching existing fluid compositions and the processes used in deicing aircraft." Along with Lockyer, in 1997 Ames researchers Leonard Haslim and John Zuk devised a nontoxic, biodegradable, and cost effective substitute for ethylene glycol. When applied to a dry surface before a snow or ice event, the solution prevented ice from forming a bond with the surface. This made it easy to wipe away any accumulation.