Nice flow

This device might be the world’s smallest waterbender — watch

Nickelodeon via Giphy

Controlling the elements with our minds might be the stuff of fantasy.

But a study in Cell Reports Physical Science describes a hands-off technique to move liquid that’s reminiscent of waterbending, a boon for Avatar, the Last Airbender fans who might want to control water with their minds.

Yifan Si

In the study, researchers used small metal beads to collect and move water across a surface. They dubbed it the hydrobot.

Yifan Si

The hydrobot maneuvers tiny beads with a magnet. The beads attract droplets, which are collected into a small puddle.

See it in action:

A magnet beneath the tabletop controls the movement of the bead.

Yifan Si


The beads, which are extremely hydrophilic, easily suck the water droplets off a hydrophobic surface.

Here’s what the setup looks like.

Yifan Si

As the researchers added more beads, they found the hydrorobot was able to move larger puddles.


"One advantage of Hydrobot is that the materials ... are easily accessible. If a task requires controlling a larger amount of water, we can simply use more beads."

Yifan Si, study author

And since water is extremely flexible, the hydrobot could one day be used to squeeze into small spaces and perform tasks like medical diagnostics, biotechnology, energy harvesting, cargo transportation, and cleaning.


So while we might not use our minds to control water anytime soon, we could one day use a device to manipulate it without our hands.

Read more stories about science here.

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