Atomic Fingerprinting Technology Spells Doom for Counterfeit Goods

The sophisticated counterfeit industry has made it nearly impossible to visually tell which products are real and which ones are not. However, the counterfeiters may be in for a rude shock, as scientists have come up with an atomic fingerprint which can b used to stamp products, thereby thwarting efforts to produce fake goods.

Robert Young, a professor of Physics at Lancaster University, UK, said that counterfeiting is the biggest crime of all. He is also the chief technology officer of the tech startup company, Quantum Base.

Atomic Fingerprint

What is an Atomic Fingerprint?

To understand this technology, you need to look at the Bohr model of an atom. In the model, electrons will only exist at certain energy levels. Electrons have the ability to jump from one energy level to the next without passing regions lying between the two energy levels. Depending on the direction of the jump, an electron will normally gain or lose energy in the process.

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One must appreciate how Bohr’s model explained this unusual event. Passing an electric current through a gas will make it to produce a glowing light, much like that seen on a neon sign. When the light is put through a prism, the result is a pattern of lines, each having a different color. The number and colors of the lines depends on the element. For example, Helium and Neon have differing patterns and colors. You have to understand what causes these lines, and why they are so different for each element in the world.

Electrons release energy in different quantities

Bohr’s model shows that when electrons jump from one energy level to the next, they emit these lines. There are only a certain number of jumps possible and therefore the energy is released in certain amounts. These amounts, also called packets, are the ones that produce the lines viewed.

Each element has a different energy level, therefore each element has a different and unique set of lines – this is what is called the atomic fingerprint. The fingerprint has been used to tell unknown elements when they are found. It is also used to identify the individual gases found in a gaseous mixture. It can also be used to tell the chemicals composition of stars and the gases found in space. Now this unique energy will be used to tell the difference between authentic and counterfeit goods.

The development of atomic fingerprinting for goods

Earlier on in the month, Robert Young and his co-researchers announced that there was a very simple way of telling the authenticity of any object. This is a development that would definitely dent the counterfeiting industry. According to the most recent statistics from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, whose headquarters are in Paris, a powerhouse in the fashion industry, the counterfeit industry causes the global economy half a trillion dollars in lost revenue annually.

The Cornell University’s open-access preprint journal published the new anti counterfeit technique on the online publications ArXiv. The methods is comprised of two components – A smartphone app and a unique molecular pattern, as explained above, which will be put into a holographic label to be put on products.

The unique pattern is formed through the intentional addition of flaws into a layer of material that is only one atom thick. This can be easily done by removing a carbon atom, creating a ridge of atoms or including extra oxygen atoms. One can think of a material like grapheme oxide. After setting the flaw, the grapheme oxide will then be used to create an ink, which will be used by an inkjet printer to form part of the hologram. The hologram will then be put into the label for a product.

Counterfeit Goods

The applications of the atomic fingerprinting technology

Customers will now be able to tell if the goods are authentic by scanning the label with their smartphone cameras. The flash of the camera will excite the electrons in the atom and they will produce a unique color characteristic to the hologram of the product. The smartphone will have an app which will analyze the image taken by the camera and read the patterns in the hologram thereby authenticating whether the label is authentic or not. The process is satisfactorily simple yet hard to copy.

In order to solve a huge issue like counterfeiting goods, a solution that can be adopted by a large number of manufacturers and customers had to be found. This is a technique that is easy to use on products and the apps will easily analyze the hologram and instantly tell customers whether the product is authentic.

The research team is now working with one company that prints over 10 billion holograms annually, and they have identified the automotive industry as their first application since several parts already have spray-painted labels. The technique will be piggybacked on the existing parts manufacturing process, where the material is added to the ink that forms the labels. This will prove that the method does work, and counterfeit automotive parts will be a thing of the past.

By the first quarter of 2018, products having this kind of label will already be on the market

The next step for these researchers is to use the technique in the pharmaceutical industry. Counterfeiting has been rife in this industry, with millions of fake drugs flooding the market every year. What is worse is that some of these counterfeit drugs end up causing death to patients.

Shocking statistics show that 30 percent of drugs sold in the world do not have the active ingredient. This means that patients who buy these drugs believing that they are the real deal end up not getting threatened for their ailments.

The research team is confident that very soon, the atomic fingerprint that they have developed may be laminated on each individual pill, allowing a patient to tell if the pill he or she is swallowing is actually going to heal them.

There is a lot of excitement as the potential of atomic fingerprinting becomes apparent to manufacturers of various goods and services.


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