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Electronics Dissolve In Water When They’re No Longer Needed

'Transient Electronics' are made of silk and silicon, have many possible applications, and can ‘disappear’ on a pre-set schedule to reduce e-waste...

Emma Hutchings
Emma Hutchings on October 1, 2012.

Researchers at the University of Illinois, in collaboration with Tufts University and Northwestern University, have developed a new type of biodegradable electronics technology. ‘Transient Electronics‘ are made of ultrathin sheets of silicon, magnesium, silk, and other biocompatible materials. They completely and harmlessly dissolve in water at different rates depending on the structure of the silk, from a couple of minutes to a few years.

Instead Of Generating E-Waste, These Electronics Dissolve When They’re No Longer Needed

These electronics have potential applications for medical implants, environmental monitors, consumer devices, and more. Medical implants could perform important diagnostic or therapeutic functions for a useful amount of time and then dissolve in the body. Wireless sensors could be dispersed after a chemical spill and then degrade over time to eliminate any ecological impact. Consumer electronic systems or sub-components would reduce electronic waste generated by products that are frequently upgraded, such as mobile devices.

The team has built transient transistors, diodes, wireless power coils, temperature and strain sensors, photodetectors, solar cells, radio oscillators and antennas, and digital cameras. They plan to further refine these and other devices, conduct more tests, and work with a semiconductor foundry to explore high-volume manufacturing possibilities. You can check out the video below for more information:

Transient Electronics

Photos by Beckman Institute, University of Illinois and Tufts University

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