Soon, electronics and materials that dissolve when triggered

Soon, electronics and materials that dissolve when triggered

What if you could send out a signal that causes your lost credit card to self-destruct? It may soon become a reality.

A researcher at Iowa State University is developing materials and electronics that dissolve when triggered, leaving no trace at all.

Reza Montazami, an Iowa State University assistant professor of mechanical engineering calls the technology 'transient materials' or 'transient electronics'. The materials are special polymers designed to quickly and completely melt away when a trigger is activated.

The research could pave way for medical devices which could harmlessly melt away inside a person's body or military devices that collect and send data and then dissolve away, leaving no trace of an intelligence mission. According to Montazami, it is a new way of looking at electronics.

"You don't expect your cell phone to dissolve someday, right? The resistors, capacitors and electronics, you don't expect everything to dissolve in such a manner that there's no trace of it," he said.

Montazami's research team is developing degradable polymer composite materials that are suitable platforms for electronic components. The team has also built and tested a degradable antenna capable of data transmission.

A paper focusing on the precise control of the degradation rate of polymer composite materials developed for transient electronics has been published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Montazami has demonstrated his project in a video which shows a blue light-emitting diode mounted on a clear polymer composite base with the electrical leads embedded inside.

Add a drop of water and the base and wiring begin to melt away. Before long the light goes out and a second drop of water degrades what little is left.

The researchers have also developed and tested transient resistors and capacitors.As the technology develops, Montazami sees more potential for the commercial application of transient materials. Just think, he said, if you lose your credit card, you could send out a signal that causes the card to self-destruct.

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, he said.

When soldiers are wounded, their electronic devices could be remotely triggered to melt away, securing sensitive military information, Montazami added. 

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