Just Add Water

Cellphones. Cameras. Computers. What do these items have in common (besides all starting with the letter C)? They are all electronic devices that tend to be replaced every few years, due to the “need” to replace them with newer technology (or longevity/quality issues). According to a study by the EPA, 438 million new electronics were sold in the USA in 2009. That’s a lot of devices, many which will be replaced within a few years.

What happens to them once their “useful” life is over?

The fate of “dead” electronics is not pretty. The same study by the EPA found that only 25% of electronics end up being recycled. The rest are either put into storage, because their owners don’t know what to do with them, or are thrown out in the trash and condemned to a very long life in the land fill.

But there is good news. A team of scientists from the University of Illinois, Tufts University, and Northwestern University are working together to create biodegradable electronics technology which they call “Transient Electronic Systems”.

Transient electronic systems are made from ultra thin sheers of silicon that can dissolve when immersed in bio fluids like water. Used with soluble conductors and dielectrics, the transient electronic systems can be made into a wide range of electronic components. The transient electronic systems are then encapsulated in silk, which is responsible for the rate of dissolution of the device.

Transient electronic systems will not only have an impact on reducing electronic waste but will also be useful for the medical field and for environmental monitoring. Transient electronic systems could be used as medical implants that are eventually absorbed into the body or as environmental sensors that leave no ecological impact.

I look forward to transient electronics hitting the consumer market and seeing what innovations are attached to them.

Broken Electronics via Shutterstock

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

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