Currently, most used devices end up in landfills and contribute to environmental pollution.
"We have demonstrated electronics that are there when you need them and gone when you do not need them anymore," said lead researcher Scott White, aerospace engineering professor at the University of Illinois in the US.
"This is a way of creating sustainability in the materials that are used in modern-day electronics. This was our first attempt to use an environmental stimulus to trigger destruction," White noted.
The heat-triggered devices use magnesium circuits printed on very thin, flexible materials.
The researchers trap microscopic droplets of a weak acid in wax, and coat the devices with the wax. When the devices are heated, the wax melts, releasing the acid. The acid dissolves the device quickly and completely.
To remotely trigger the reaction, researchers embedded a radio-frequency receiver and an inductive heating coil in the device. The user can send a signal to cause the coil to heat up, which melts the wax and dissolves the device.
The researchers said they can control how fast the device degrades by tuning the thickness of the wax, the concentration of the acid, and the temperature.
They can design a device to self-destruct within 20 seconds to a couple of minutes after heat is applied, noted the study, published in the journal Advanced Materials.