Many of us are addicted to our electronics, but the thought of losing a gadget would send most of us into panic mode. Now, materials scientist, John Rogers, of the University of Illinois, is creating electronic devices that vanish…..on purpose!
“These devices are designed and engineered with complete sets of materials that either dissolve in water, they can evaporate in open air, in a dry environment,” said Rogers.
The tiny, fully functional devices are completely safe and can even dissolve inside the body to monitor vital signs or deliver medications, and won’t need to be surgically removed.
“Once the wound is healed the ideal thing would be for the device to simply disappear,” Rogers said.
The device is enclosed in a thin film of silk – the same material found in medical sutures. The electronics are made of thin layers of silicon and magnesium--which are both safe for the human body. Depending on how thick each layer is – the device can last for hours, days, months or even years.
Rogers says, “the thickness and designs of those layers determines the rate at which the circuit will dissolve when immersed in water.”
The technology could also be used for environmental monitoring and also in consumer gadgets that can become compost instead of trash.
“So if you could make some of the electronics or eventually all of the electronics, to dissolve in a time scale of 3 or 4 years that might be great because it would eliminate a lot of the toxic waste and cost associated with recycling that happens today,” said Rogers.
Researchers have developed and tested several device prototypes. A mouse was used to show that an implanted medical device could speed up wound healing and kill bacteria, and then dissolve.
The device still needs about 5 to 10 years of testing before it will be available for human trials.
Karin Heineman is the executive producer of Inside Science TV. She has produced over 600 video news segments on science, technology, engineering and math in the past 13 years for Inside Science TV and its predecessor, Discoveries and Breakthroughs Inside Science.