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A little more than a year ago, physicist Nabil Lawandy was stranded at the Charlotte, N.C., airport, listening to endless news stories about sequestration and the threat of a government shutdown, when scientific inspiration hit. Lawandy was struck by a mundane but important way that the government could save hundreds of millions of dollars: by cleaning money and keeping it in circulation for longer.
The former Brown University professor left academia in the mid-1990s to found Spectra Systems Corp., a Rhode Island company that works on technologies that help central banks detect counterfeit currency. But he drew on an even more unlikely area of experience when brainstorming about the best way to scrub dollar bills clean. When he worked as a young scientist at NASA, pressurized gases would be used to clean the optics for satellites. What if the same technique was used on currency?