Researchers Create Polymer That 'Self-Destructs' upon Completing a Mission

The new polymer has a host of tactical military applications.
Donovan Alexander

You know those moments in those old spy movies and occasionally in the Mission Impossible movies where an agent receives an important message which later goes on to "self destruct in 10 seconds" after the message is delivered to erase all evidence of being contacted in the first place. Or perhaps during your days as a kid, you imagined having some super-secret weapon or technology that would vanquish enemies and disappear upon completing a mission. 

Well, today, science has done it again. Researchers have created a material that vaporizes immediately upon completing a mission. Even the researchers who are part of the project can't help but make references to spy movies calling it a "James Bond-like material."

The vanishing polymer 

The material created by Kohl's research group at the Georgia Institute of Technology is probably much more subtle than a self-destructing message. In short, the polymer "self destructs" and disappears once coming in contact with sunlight. Researchers have already proposed using the material to construct objects that can transport important packages into hostile territories.  


The project also involves the Department of Defense. As mentioned before, the eventual aim of the polymer is to create delivery vehicles that leave no trace, removing the need to go in and recover a device after a mission. Think about how many missions would have been much easier on Call of Duty Black Ops if your characters had this kind of technology.

Paul Kohl Ph.D., who was part of the team who worked on the polymer, described the new material stating, "This is not the kind of thing that slowly degrades over a year, like the biodegradable plastics that consumers might be familiar with."

"This polymer disappears in an instant when you push a button to trigger an internal mechanism or the sun hits it."

So, how does it work? 

The secret behind this material centers around researchers creating what is called a ceiling temperature for the polymer. As the name implies, anything below the ceiling temperature and the polymer is stable.

However, if you start heating your polymer above that ceiling, it begins to break apart or goes through the process of depolymerization. Even more so, the lower the ceiling of the polymer, the faster the depolymerization. However, this still doesn't create the James Bond-like material. To finally get the new unique materials, researchers added a photosensitive additive that catalyzed polymerization. It helped allow the material to vaporize once being exposed to light. 

In short, the military could deploy a vehicle at night for a mission and have it disappear at sunrise. 

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