This Circuit Board Will Self-Destruct in 5, 4, 3…

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September 11, 2017 | Originally published by Date Line: September 11 on

Under the cover of night, enemy agents capture an elite solider unit. The agents hold down the commander and cut through the skin of his upper arm, pulling out a slim, transparent circuit board containing the unit’s military directives. But as soon as the agents remove the device, it dissolves before their eyes.

Sounds sci-fi, right? Yet such technology is one step closer to reality this month, thanks to a proof-of-concept study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Resources. A pair of engineers at Vanderbilt University has constructed simple circuit boards, including conductive traces and capacitors, that work above room temperature but rapidly disintegrate when cooled below 32°C (89°F).

There are numerous types of transient electronics in development, but many are designed to self-destruct when energy, such as heat or light, is applied. Others must be submerged in water. The novelty of this new technology is that simple neglect leads to destruction: When warm, the technology works; if not, it comes apart.