A computer chip that self-destructs in seconds
This is a computer chip made from Gorilla Glass that can be triggered to self-destruct into thousands of pieces in seconds Xerox PARC / IDG TV

Engineers from PARC have showcased the first ever computer chip that is able to self-destruct in 10 seconds in order to keep top-secret information safe. Developed as part of Darpa's vanishing programmable resources project, the computer chip from the Xerox company is built from toughened Gorilla Glass.

When desired, the owner of the chip can destruct it by turning on a circuit that heats up a small resistor, thereby stressing the glass to breaking point using heat. This causes the computer chip to shatter into thousands of pieces, and keep breaking into smaller pieces due to the stress.

The chip was demonstrated at the Darpa's Wait, What? future technology conference in St Louis, Missouri on 10 September, and the researchers believe it could be useful in destroying important data such as encryption keys for PGP end-to-end encryption, as it is impossible to put the chip back together once it has been destroyed.

"The applications we are interested in are data security and things like that. We really wanted to come up with a system that was very rapid and compatible with commercial electronics," Gregory Whiting, a senior scientist at PARC in Palo Alto, California told PC World. "We take the glass and we ion-exchange temper it to build in stress. What you get is glass that, because it's heavily stressed, breaks it fragments into tiny little pieces."

What is interesting is that anything can be used to trigger the self-destruct circuit of the computer chip, from the light of a laser to a radio signal, so this could truly be a solution worthy of the great modern spy action films à la Mission: Impossible and James Bond.