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Smartphone App Uses Quantum Technology to Identify Fake Products

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LANCASTER, England, July 19, 2017 — An atomic-scale ID based on quantum technology has been demonstrated using a smartphone application. The quantum ID (QID) could potentially be used for verifying the authenticity of many types of products, from medicines to automotive parts.

Researchers from Lancaster University used an angle-adjustable transmission filter, simple optics and a CCD camera to capture photoluminescence and produce complex maps of unique information from 2D monolayers.

Quantum ID technology, Lancaster University.

A research student working in an optical laboratory performing some of the first measurements on optical security tags. Courtesy of Lancaster University.

Ultrathin 2D materials — such as graphene — were placed on the surface of an optical tag to create the QID. The materials had atomic-scale faults within them, and these imperfections were used to create unique fingerprints.

The atomic-level imperfections changed how light was generated from the nanomaterials. When light was shined on the QID, the tiny imperfections in the 2D material emitted a pattern of colors that corresponded to the unique arrangement of atoms in the material, allowing the research team to generate unique optical signatures from the light emitted. A camera was used to map the unique signature of the atoms to form an atomic-scale fingerprint.

Atomic force microscopy was used to verify the origin of the optical signature measured, confirming that it resulted from nanometer-scale imperfections in the materials used for the QID.

Imperfections, locked into structures during fabrication, could be used to provide a fingerprint that is challenging to reproduce. Materials used to create imperfections could be added to everyday items. Consumers could scan the optical tag on a product with a smartphone, which would then match the tag with the item in the  manufacturer’s database.

Imperfections on the QID tags could even be made from edible materials and coated onto medicines. Equipping medicines with QIDs would enable verification throughout the supply chain and allow patients to check authenticity by scanning the medication with a smartphone.

This patented technology and the related smartphone application are expected to be available to the public in 2018. The QIDs have the potential to fit on any surface or any product, so could be used to address security needs in markets around the world.

Professor Robert Young of Lancaster University said, “It is wonderful to be on the front line, using scientific discovery in such a positive way to wage war on a global epidemic such as counterfeiting, which ultimately costs both lives and livelihoods alike.”

The technology and the smartphone application were demonstrated at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2017, July 4-9, 2017 in London.

The research was published in Scientific Reports (doi:10.1038/srep16456).

Additional research is available from the Cornell Library.  

A future without fakes. Courtesy of Lancaster University.
Jul 2017
A sub-field of photonics that pertains to an electronic device that responds to optical power, emits or modifies optical radiation, or utilizes optical radiation for its internal operation. Any device that functions as an electrical-to-optical or optical-to-electrical transducer. Electro-optic often is used erroneously as a synonym.
Smallest amount into which the energy of a wave can be divided. The quantum is proportional to the frequency of the wave. See photon.
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