Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Self-Destructing Electronic Devices: A Step in the Right Direction?

by Ashley Quinones

Example of a self-destructing electronic component. A heating element is activated by radio signal, when triggered, and completely dissolves the device. Photo from Scott White.

Researchers at the University of Illinois have made a breakthrough in electronic waste, and more importantly what we do with the mountains of it being put in electronics each day. Instead of throwing out your old cellphone, camera, computer component, etc. - perhaps one day it will be manufactured to self-destruct. This process would either break down the device into nothing, or even just into it's respective molecular make-up thus allowing it to be recycled into a new self-destructing part.

While implementation is a thing of the future, the technology does exist. These University of Illinois researchers, headed by Scott R. White, John A. Rogers, have already managed to create examples of self-destructing devices using magnesium circuits printed on a thin square of flexible material. The circuits are coated in a fine layer of wax that contains drops of weak acid. When a radio signal is sent to the heating element within the device, it heats up and melts the layer of wax, allowing the acid droplets to come into contact with the circuit. This dissolves the device.

White and Rogers' team of researchers posted a video to YouTube explaining and demonstrating exactly how the whole process works:

Their common goal was to find a way to make electronic waste into something companies can break down, recycle and reuse. By altering the amount or type of wax, acid, etc. they can create devices that dissolve very quickly or at a slower rate that is measured in minutes rather than seconds.

Thinking of how often we do things like upgrade cellphones for newer models while the old one is still kicking, or upgrade computer parts to have a top-of-the-line rig, this kind of technology would certainly mean less waste in landfills and make the practice of planned obsolescence have a lessened effect in the electronic realm.

Information for this post gather from this article as well as this blog post.

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