Biodegradable Electronics

We have moved one step closer to a world free of harmful non-biodegradable electronics as a group of researchers created electronic components soluble in body and water. These components could be used in future electronic devices which could perish after a certain time of use, thereby helping to tackle the current problem of electronic wastes. Biodegradable electronic components would also be a great help in medical implants where surgical removal of implants are necessary after a certain duration of time. 

Two researchers who led this project are: John Rogers from University of Illinois at Urbana-Campaign and Fiorenzo Omenetto from Tufts University. According to them they have found solution to various types of dissolving like that of electronic or optical device.

This project was started in 2009, they conducted various researches on silk. Thin sheets of silk created by processing of proteins extracted from silkworm has been developed, these sheets can be easily attached to body tissues. Duration of degradation of silk can be controlled depending upon its processing. Researchers put silicon integrated circuits with light emitting diodes on processed silk.

Initially, researchers faced problem as all components didn’t dissolve in animal testing and silicon for long-term in body could be harmful.

Researchers used magnesium instead of stable metals like gold or silver to connect integrated circuits, wires and antennas which could be powered from outside of body. The researchers further found that by changing the thickness of silicon membranes, the duration taken by it to dissolve could be controlled, ideally a 100 nanometres thick silicon membrane can dissolve at the rate of 4.5 nanometres per day.

Thus, researchers are able to control the duration of the component’s degradation by simply controlling the properties of silk and thickness of silicon membranes used. Large scale production of silk-silicon electronic components are under process and medical implants that generally don’t require much sophistication will most probably be the first in line to get manufactured.

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