Nanocrystals for tagging: A possible breakthrough

imagesResearch carried out at MIT and funded by the National Science Foundation, the Army Research Office and National Institute of Health has led to the successful development  of tiny, smartphone-readable particles that, inventors say, could be used to authenticate currency (see also my Jan 13th, 2013 post), electronic parts and luxury goods, among other products. These invisible particles contain colored stripes of nanocrystals that glow brightly when exposed to near infrared light. The new particles are about 200 microns long and include several stripes of different colored nanocrystals doped with rare earth elements such as ytterbium, gadolinium and others.  These microparticles can be dispersed within the manufacturing or packaging process, incorporated into 3-D-printed objects or printed into currency notes, the inventors have stated. They can withstand extreme temperatures, sun exposure and heavy wear. To authenticate bank notes to fight fraud, the particles would be incorporated in the printing ink.  They could also be mixed into the paint used by artists, again allowing for authentication. ( P.S. note: Auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie should be interested in this work)

The similarity of this approach to current bar coding techniques is striking. Using the above procedure, a very large variety of unique tags can be created. With six stripes,              1 million different color combinations can be created. If more than one particle is used, there would allegedly be enough combinations to coat every grain of sand on earth(!).

“What separates our system from other anti-counterfitting technologies is this ability to rapidly and inexpensively tailor material properties to meet the needs of very different and challenging requirements, without impacting smart-phone readout or requiring  complete redesign of the system.”

The invention is further described in the April 2014 issue of Nature Materials magazine and in the Fall 2014 issue of XCurrents, a publication of MIT’s Chemical Engineering Practice School.

We have entered a new era where coding methods are really changing our life. It is now possible to shop at stores and supermarkets like Stop-and-Shop and use a smartphone to price items as we look at them and keep a running tally of the total price of all items in our shopping cart before reaching the checkout counter. Chemistry and electronics keep making an ever larger impact.

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