The answer to the growing water crisis in developing countries might be a postage stamp-sized device that resembles a computer chip. Researchers at MIT have developed a water purifier made out of soft silicone that separates out contaminants using magnetic fields — all without getting clogged.

The clear device is lined with dark slashes, or microchannels, that filter out dirty water (and anything else with a positive or negative charge) using a strong magnetic field. A single device can only process tiny amounts of water, but MIT researchers imagine that they could be lined up in arrays–1,600 units placed on an 8 inch diameter wafer, for example, could generate 15 liters of water an hour.

The desalination device does have some disadvantages. It is so small that it would be difficult to use it to desalinate water for an entire city, though it could certainly be useful in emergency situations. MIT’s device also uses more electricity than large-scale devices, but researchers claim it is the most efficient device in existence for small-scale desalination.

Researchers have so far only tested a single unit, which succeeded in removing 99% of contaminants from seawater. Next up: building a 100-unit device for testing. If all goes well, MIT researchers expect to have the system ready for commercialization in two years.


Photo by Patrick Gillooly