Remember Luke Skywalker’s aunt Beru and uncle Owen? They were moisture farmers who used incredible devices called moisture vaporators to pull drinkable water directly out of the arid Tatooine air.
Sure, it was a minor detail mentioned only in passing a few times, but it likely inspired this recent invention (at least I hope so). According to a press release, UC Berkeley scientists have made those moisture vaporators a reality. Aside from pleasing Star Wars nerds, however, this invention has the potential to revolutionize how human beings collect water and could provide much needed relief for areas in which water is scarce.
The solar-powered device uses a special material called a metal-organic framework (MOF), which is essentially a lattice of metal ions and organic molecules. These unique materials can pull 2.8 liters of water out of ambient air in just twelve hours – even with humidity levels as low as 20 to 30 percent.
While tests have so far been small, researchers are planning to test them on a much larger scale. According to UC Berkeley chemistry professor Omar Yaghi, one of the authors of the published study detailing this groundbreaking invention, the device could be scaled up to provide water for an entire house:
One vision for the future is to have water off-grid, where you have a device at home running on ambient solar for delivering water that satisfies the needs of a household. There is a lot of potential for scaling up the amount of water that is being harvested. It is just a matter of further engineering now.
Don’t tell Nestlé. It makes you wonder though – if every house has one of these devices on its roof, what will happen to the global water cycle? Could they eventually pull too much water out of the air, disrupting climate cycles? Someone a lot smarter than me will have to work that one out. Whatever the fate of the device will be, it’s one more example of how science fiction has for decades served as a source of technological inspiration for inventors and engineers. Last year, the XPRIZE foundation launched a competition that pitted teams against one another to invent a working tricorder medical scanner straight out of Star Trek; meanwhile, NASA scientists are reportedly developing working tractor beams, a staple of space operas. No word on working lightsabers yet, though. The last thing we need is more ways to kill each other.