Research into transient electronics – devices that expire after a set amount of time – is hotting up.
To create such devices, each component part needs to be reimagined, from circuit board to power supply. Using a combination of dissolvable silicone, magnesium and silk, transient circuitry can be built with a lifespan ranging from hours to years.
Materials scientist John Rogers from the University of Illinois in the US is leading the research in this field, with his research programme Born to Die. “The goal of the electronics industry has always been to build durable devices that last forever with stable performance,” said Rogers, speaking at the American Chemical Society (ACS) conference earlier this year. “But many new opportunities open up once you start thinking about electronics that could disappear in a controlled and programmable way.”
Transient electronic chips could be used in three key applications:
- Medicine: Medical implants could provide diagnostic or therapeutic functions before dissolving without trace. The Illinois researchers have successfully implanted prototype transient electronic chips into mice, where the implant killed off bacteria around a surgical wound site before dissolving.
- Environmental Monitors: Chips could be deployed to monitor the progress of environmental events such as oil spills or polluted rivers, dissolving over time to minimise any ecological impact.
- Consumer Electronics: Passwords are a source of frustration and irritation for many consumers. In June, US smartphone firm Motorola revealed it is working on a pill that has the ability to turn the whole body into a password. The pill has a small electronic chip inside it, which would automatically authenticate access to users’ computers, laptops or mobile phones.
For more examples of how dissolvable technology is infiltrating the packaging industry, see Shape-Shifting Packaging.