Materials Enable Disposable Electronics That Disappear When They're Done

Used electronics present problems when its time to get rid of them. Recycling can be a challenge, and landfills can lead to contamination. Reza Montazami, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Iowa State University, has a potential solution with electronics made from special polymers that quickly and completely melt away when triggered. (electronic design)

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

Known as transient materials or transient electronics, these materials have multiple potential applications. Medical implants could harmlessly melt away inside a patient once treatment is over. Military surveillance devices could disappear once they have completed their mission, leaving no evidence of their presence. Or, imagine credit cards that can self-destruct if they're ever lost. So far, the researchers have developed a blue LED mounted on a clear polymer composite base with electrical leads embedded inside. A drop of water begins to melt away the base and wiring. The light soon goes out, and a second drop of water degrades what's left. They also have produced a degradable antenna capable of data transmission (see the figure). (prototype development)

prototype development product design hardware design
The triggers that instigate.the degradation of the electronics are chemical, activated by electric and/or magnetic signals. The encapsulating structures for potential devices can be made of different materials. Montazami expects batteries and organic photovoltaics to serve as power sources.(hardware design)

"Depending on the application, commercial batteries may or may not be suitable he said., "For a fully transient device, a transient battery is needed, when a commercial battery can be used for a partially transient device." (manufacturing sources)

Montazami's research has not uncovered any mass or size limitations for potential devices yet. Also, some of the materials are bio-compatible, suggesting sensors that could be used to detect when food is no longer fresh in addition to medical applications.

Posted from: Electronic Design magazine

Author: Richard Gawel

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