An end to counterfeit foods, drinks and medicines

Thursday, 20 July, 2017

Every year, counterfeit and pirated goods globally cost nearly US$0.5 trillion in lost revenue. This isn’t small bikkies — and the food and beverage industry is far from immune.

At $200 billion each year, counterfeit medicines do more harm than just to the bottom line of ethical pharmaceutical goods manufacturers. It is estimated that one-third of these counterfeit products contain no active ingredients at all and result in substantial deaths.

However, now it seems there may be a solution — atomic-scale identities based on the irregularities found in 2D materials like graphene. On an atomic scale, quantum physics amplifies these irregularities, making it possible to ‘fingerprint’ them in simple electronic devices and optical tags.

A team from Lancaster University and spin-out company Quantum Base has patented an optical technology that can read these imperfections using a smartphone app and so enable people to check the authenticity of products.

It is anticipated that this technology and the related application will be available to the public in the first half of 2018.

A bit of background

When light is shone on the 2D material (like graphene sheets), tiny imperfections shine, causing the material to emit light. This glow can be measured as a signal, unique only to that small section of material. The signal can then be turned into a number sequence which acts as a digital fingerprint.

The small flakes, which are invisible to the human eye, can be added to everyday items such as money, credit cards, passports and gig tickets. A smartphone app can then read a photo to tell the unique signal from the flakes and detect whether the product is genuine or fake through the right or wrong fingerprint.

The miniscule graphene identity tags are completely unique, have a track-and-trace ability and could be turned off at any point, which could be useful if a batch of products are stolen or lost at any point in the supply chain. Not only that, the tags could be edible and coated onto medicines and foods.

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