As digital circuits shrink in size and grow in power, they are becoming nearly invisible. According to John Rogers, University of Illinois materials science professor and MacArthur “genius” grant recipient, the next step is a circuit that literally disappears by dissolving.
Rogers is developing the very first circuits that are water-soluble, or transient. This breakthrough in nanotechnology could revolutionize wearable medical devices by placing them inside the human body. Applying one of these circuits to the skin is just like putting on a temporary tattoo. Further, not only do the circuits monitor the body, they also react and respond to it.
According to PCmag.com, researchers at The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are building their own system of dissolvable biocompatible electronics out of silicone and magnesium housed in silk. While DARPA’s primary focus is on medical applications, they are already considering ways that this technology can be applied to the military.
Beyond the body, these transient circuits can monitor conditions in an environmental disaster.
For example if you distributed a hundred thousand of these devices over many square miles of an oil spill, you would not want to go back and recover them. According to Rogers, transience is an important factor in that scenario.
As concerns for e-waste grow, Rogers expects this technology to play a large role in a green future.
Transient circuits are an example of true sustainability in that they completely disappear when their usefulness has passed. If businesses manufactured all consumer electronics using transient circuits, it could have a positive impact on the environment, reducing the cost of recycling and managing the waste associated with them.