Counterfeiters Beware of this Tiny Technology

A new breakthrough in microparticle technology may help to prevent the forging of currency and the sale of counterfeit, sub-standard and unsafe goods to unwary customers.

Scientists and engineers at MIT have developed a new microscopic barcode that can be embedded into currency, credit cards and industrial packaging. Although these tiny barcodes are invisible to the naked eye, they reveal their multi-coloured bands under near-infrared light. These colours are created by arranging inorganic nanocrystals laced with rare-earth elements. Their new technique improves upon existing micro-tagging technology by boosting the number of colour combinations to the extent that every grain of sand on earth could be given a unique identifier!

The resulting microparticles created can then be used to mark items such as blister pack for medication, food packaging, paper currency or plastic credit cards, making it much more difficult for counterfeiters to create a convincing fake.

“It’s a race, and the counterfeiters are very good.”
– Jon Kellar, Center for Security Printing and Anti-Counterfeiting Technology at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

Most interestingly, this type of microparticle has the potential to be able to hold a series of tiny sensors that will be able to monitor product quality. For example, a temperature sensor that would be able to indicate whether a product has been exposed to unsafe temperatures during its handling. This technique could be used to thwart the exploits of organised groups involved in criminal activity within the food and pharmaceutical industries.

The team is now working on an LED attachment that will allow smartphones to illuminate and read these micro-codes, hoping to create a compact and easy to use device for consumers in the not too distant future. Counterfeiters beware!

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