Burglars Beware: New Material Steams, Foams Upon Break-In

The material was inspired by bombardier beetles.

Can't touch this

The material steaming and foaming after being broken into.Jonas G. Halter et al / Journal of Materials Chemistry A

When bombardier beetles are attacked, they mix chemicals in their body to create a rapid and violent reaction, squirting out a concoction that's corrosive and hot, near the boiling point of water. Inspired by this defense mechanism, Swiss engineers have created a polymer-based material that gives off steam and foam if it is tampered with. The material consists of sheets of polymer between which two different chemicals are sandwiched, including hydrogen peroxide. They are separated by a rigid wall that breaks upon forced entry, after which the materials react in a most unpleasant manner.

Imagine if ATMs were made of this stuff--thieves could unwittingly destroy their loot before even removing it, as Chemistry World reported. The system could also be tweaked to include dye or a "DNA-based marker" so that thieves could be easily identified and caught, as they say, red-handed. Since the system requires no electricity, it could be cheaper way of defending ATMs, as the researchers wrote in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A. It could also be used to prevent animals from eating certain crops or trees, they added.

Bio-inspired design is nothing new for one of the researchers, Wendelin Stark from the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology in Zurich. He and his colleagues have previously proposed making self-cooling sweaty buildings and self-defending seeds that can poison pests when bitten into.