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This new new chip will self-destruct in less than 10 seconds

DARPA-funded Gorilla Glass thingy will go pop rather than answer unwanted questions

Engineers at Xerox PARC have developed a prototype chip capable of self-destructing upon command.

The Mission Impossible-style integrated circuit might be used for applications such as the storage of encryption keys. The chip is fabricated on a Gorilla Glass substrate and capable of shattering on demand into thousands of pieces so small that reconstruction is impossible.

Gorilla Glass is more typically used as the tough glass in smartphone displays.

DARPA, the US military’s mad boffin bureau, put $2m into funding the research, and the kit was demonstrated at DARPA’s Wait, What? event in St Louis, Missouri last week.

“We really wanted to come up with a system that was very rapid and compatible with commercial electronics,” said Gregory Whiting, a senior scientist at PARC, PC World reported.

“We take the glass and we ion-exchange temper it to build in stress,” Whiting explained. “What you get is glass that, because it’s heavily stressed... fragments into tiny little pieces.”

During the demo, the glass was stressed close to breaking point by heat. Application of a small current across a resistor through a circuit created enough additional heat to shatter the glass and the IC held on it into thousands of pieces.

The self-destruct circuit was triggered by a photo-diode, which activated the circuit when a bright light fell on it. A laser was used as a trigger in the demo, but the trigger could just as easily be a radio signal.

Applications of the DUST, or Disintegration Upon Stress-Release Trigger, could include built-in self-destruct capabilities for the sensitive electronics within military drones, remote sensing or battlefield communications kit.

The tech also has potential civilian applications, according to PARC in everything from consumer electronics and medicine to environmental science.

“In the world of environmental science, DUST sensors could be distributed in large numbers to help measure wide-area phenomenon such as weather patterns for hurricane prediction or subtle vibrations that precede earthquakes, and then be effectively removed from the environment with no residual footprint,” it explained.

PARC’s research is part of DARPA’s larger Vanishing Programmable Resources project. The boffins are not relying on kit that shatters when triggered and are also working on dissolvable electronics. ®

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