US scientists develop "transient electronics" that melt

(Credit: Beckman Institute, University of Illinois and Tufts University)A biodegradable integrated circuit during dissolution in water. This demonstration system includes transistors, diodes, inductors and capacitors, composed of magnesium electrodes/interconnects, magnesium oxide gate/interlayer dielectrics, and silicon nanomembrane semiconductors, all on a thin film of silk. The device is approximately one inch long.

It's the high tech version of the self-destruct devices on Mission: Impossible. A US research team has developed electronics that store and transmit sensitive data—but dissolve after doing their job.

The team that achieved this breakthrough is led by Reza Montazami, an Iowa State University assistant professor of mechanical engineering. Montazami said these "transient materials" or "transient electronics" are made of of special polymers designed to completely melt away when a trigger is activated.

The scientists are working on developing degradable polymer composite materials that will be suitable platforms for electronics. The current focus is on developing transient LED and transistor technology. As the technology continues to develop, the potential for commercial and military applications will grow.

The team has already built and tested an antenna capable of transmitting data that then degrades. It has also developed transient resistors and capacitors that have tested well.

Montazami's team includes researchers from Iowa State, the US Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory, and Washington State University. It has focused recent research on the precise control of the degradation rate of polymer composite materials developed for transient electronics. The technology can be used in everything from medical to military and intelligence operations.

The team has published a study on transient electronics in a recent issue of Advanced Functional Materials and presented it at a recent conference of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

At the ACS conference, Montazami demonstrated that potential by showing a video of an experiment on transient electronics. In the video, the electrical wires for a lit LED were embedded in the transient polymer. A single drop of water caused the entire LED to melt. A second drop of water dissolved the entire LED..

"Just think. If you lose your credit card, you could send out a signal that causes the card to self-destruct," Montazami said.

"Or, sensors programmed to degrade over certain times and temperatures could be stored with food. When the sensors degrade and stop sending a signal, that food is no longer fresh. Or, when soldiers are wounded, their electronic devices could be remotely triggered to melt away, securing sensitive military information."

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