Courtesy of Cornell University

Once triggered, the electronic chips are built to vanish completely.

March 7, 2018

Cornell Researchers Create Tech Designed to Disappear into Thin Air

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A team of researchers from Cornell have developed an electronic chip with the ability to completely vanish.

The chip contains capsules of rubidium, which produce enough heat to vaporize the surrounding polymer when exposed to oxygen. This polymer contains the silicon dioxide-based electronics along with chemical etchants, which are acidic or corrosive chemicals.

When the polymer is vaporized, the etchants within react to dissolve the silicon dioxide-based electronics, allowing the whole system to disappear into thin air.

The team from Cornell, which includes Prof. Amit Lal, electrical and computer engineering, Ved Gund Ph.D. ’17 and Alex Ruyack ’13 grad, has worked in collaboration with Honeywell Electronics since 2014 to develop the technology.

According to Gund, this chip sets itself apart from others in the field of vaporizable electronics due to its ability to vanish using only encapsulated heat sources. After the rubidium’s exposure to oxygen, the chip requires no external power to vanish.

The valves providing oxygen can be opened remotely using radio waves, allowing the chip to be destroyed over long distances at will, according to a University press release.

“The time required to produce vaporization can be controlled very specifically by arraying chambers of rubidium. The system offers the advantage of controlled time of disappearance and reduced power of operation, compared to previous demonstrations,” Gund told The Sun in an email.

Researchers are optimistic about using the technology “to prevent unauthorized theft of data such as medical or personal information,” Lal told The Sun in an email.

Other applications can be found in the medical field, according to Gund. This new class of electronics offers an alternative to conventional devices, preventing electronic waste accumulation in the human body, he said.

These devices also have potential in the sphere of agriculture to monitor crops, humidity, temperature, and other soil and crop parameters. Gund said that after sensors are used to take measurements, “they can be then made to vanish while leaving behind no residue.”

According to Gund, the novelty of the technology means that it will take up to five years before the device is able to be incorporated in usable technology.

“The technology, while demonstrated in research, is still in its infancy and requires development of large-scale manufacturing that can support the novel materials used in this technology with high yield,” he said.