Miniature, completely biocompatible, electronic instruments that can harmlessly disintegrate into their surroundings after working for a certain amount of time, have been constructed by biomedical engineers from Tufts University.

This discovery of “transient electronics”, a new group of silk-silicon devices that function for a specific amount of time followed by disintegration, pave the path for medical implants that never need to be surgically removed. It could also be a potential milestone for compostable consumer electronics and environmental monitoring devices.

Fiorenzo Omenetto, professor of biomedical engineering at Tufts School of Engineering and a senior and corresponding author of these findings published Science says:

“These devices are the polar opposite of conventional electronics whose integrated circuits are designed for long-term physical and electronic stability. Transient electronics offer robust performance comparable to current devices but they will fully resorb into their environment at a prescribed time, ranging from minutes to years, depending on the application.”

The super modern devices integrate traditional assimilated circuits, magnesium and silicon, but in an extremely thin form, that is later enclosed in silk protein. While at first silicon seems waterproof, it will eventually dissolve in water, however, getting the electronic parts to dissolve immediately rather than over a long period of time can be a challenge.

Practically minuscule, these tiny circuits, dissolve in small amount of water or body fluid and are then safely reabsorbed. The ability to control materials to this degree makes it possible to impose exactly the length of time disintegration takes.

Device suspension is also controlled by sheets of silk protein in which the electronics are supported and encased. Silk protein is taken from silkworm cocoons and is strong, fully biodegradable, and bio-friendly. The researchers effectively showed the new platform by testing a thermal device in a rat aimed at watching and preventing post-surgical infection.

In their future research, the investigators, foresee more intricate devices that strive to be adaptable in real time or responsive to environmental changes including light, pressure, or chemistry.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald