If an electronic device containing sensitive information were to fall into the wrong hands, it would be good if there were a way of remotely disabling it. That's why scientists from Cornell University and Honeywell Aerospace have developed a method of vaporizing electronic circuits, without laying a hand on the actual device.

Led by Cornell's Ved Gund, the researchers have created a silicon-dioxide microchip packaged within a polycarbonate shell. Built into that shell are microscopic cavities filled with rubidium and sodium biflouride.

When the shell is exposed to a certain frequency of radio waves, tiny graphene-on-nitride valves between the cavities open, allowing the chemicals to mix and react. "The encapsulated rubidium then oxidizes vigorously, releasing heat to vaporize the polycarbonate shell and decompose the sodium bifluoride," says Gund. "The latter controllably releases hydrofluoric acid to etch away the electronics."

Unlike some previous efforts at creating so-called "transient electronics," this version doesn't require water to dissolve them, not does it need a powered heating element to bring them to the required temperature.

Along with applications such as data protection, it is hoped that the technology might also find use in things like environmental sensors that can be remotely vaporized once they're no longer needed.