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.