Researchers have invented ultra-thin dissolvable electronics that are made of silicon, magnesium, and magnesium oxide, surrounded by a layer of silk.
The same researchers who developed “electronic tattoos” last year that bend and stretch on skin unveiled the thin electronics that dissolve when their job is done, reports CNet.
The small electronics are called “transient” electronics and aren’t built to last, but instead are designed to melt away after their job is done, reducing the need to either pass or surgically remove them from a human.
The researchers have started using their devices to heat wounds in rats, a process that protects them from bacterial infection. Researchers from Tufts and the University of Illinois revealed their discovery in the current issue of Science. They used extremely thin sheets of silicon called nanomembranes that allow the electronics to dissolve in hours or days instead of years.
The materials they use are also non-toxic, meaning that they will pose no threat to the person they are implanted in. One device contains less magnesium than a multivitamin. The silk was cultivated from silkworm cocoons, allowing the researchers to control the speed of disintegration.
The Press Association notes that other applications for the dissolvable electronics include so-called “green” components for mobile phones and laptops, which will never end up in landfill sites. Transient electronics in environmental sensors could also be used in roads or buildings without them needing to be retrieved.
A number of vanishing devices have already been tested in the lab, including temperature and strain sensors, light detectors, solar cells, radio transmitters, and even a 64 pixel digital camera.
Professor Fiorenzo Omenetto, who is a leading member of the Tufts School of Engineering in Medford, stated:
“These devices are the polar opposite of conventional electronics whose integrated circuits are designed for long-term physical and electronic stability. Transient electronics offer robust performance comparable to current devices but they will fully resorb into their environment at a prescribed time, ranging from minutes to years, depending on the application.”
If the devices make it through initial trials, they could be used for anything from implants in brains and hearts to disposable and dissolvable cameras and cellphones.