Tiny structures sway with a magnetic field to redirect fluid and sunlight. 

Windshield wipers? Blinds? Those window accoutrements may be things of the past, if a new invention from MIT proves its worth. Engineers have developed a new elastic material covered with microscopic, magnetically activated ‘hairs’ that can direct moisture and sunlight away from a surface by moving in response to a magnetic field.

The hairs—which are about one-fourth the width of a human hair—instantly sway in the direction of an incoming field, forming a path that allows fluid or light to flow the same way.    

“You could coat this on your car windshield to manipulate rain or sunlight,” says Yangying Zhu, a co-author of a study on the material, told MIT News. “So you could filter how much solar radiation you want coming in, and also shed raindrops. This is an opportunity for the future.”

Zhu cited the tiny hairs in our noses—called cilia—as the inspiration for the invention. These work with a layer of mucus to filter out dust, bacteria, and other airborne bits entering our nose as we breathe.  

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