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.  

What's that smell? A smarter window.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Environment

    A 13,235-Mile Road Trip for 70-Degree Weather Every Day

    This year-long journey across the U.S. keeps you at consistent high temperatures.

  2. Transportation

    Why New York City Stopped Building Subways

    Nearly 80 years ago, a construction standstill derailed the subway’s progress, leading to its present crisis. This is the story, decade by decade.

  3. a photo of a NYC bus

    Why the Bus Got So Bad, and How to Save It

    TransitCenter’s Steven Higashide has created a how-to guide to help city leaders and public transportation advocates save struggling bus systems.

  4. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

  5. a photo of bikes on a bridge in Amsterdam

    Street by Street, Amsterdam Is Cutting Cars Out of the Picture

    Armed with a street-design tool called the knip, the Dutch capital is slashing car access in the city center, and expanding public transit hours.