Materials

"Nano-spirals" could make counterfeiting almost impossible

"Nano-spirals" could make coun...
The nano-spirals emit a very specific optical signature that could be recognized by a barcode reader-like device
The nano-spirals emit a very specific optical signature that could be recognized by a barcode reader-like device
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The nano-spirals emit a very specific optical signature that could be recognized by a barcode reader-like device
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The nano-spirals emit a very specific optical signature that could be recognized by a barcode reader-like device
When the researchers shone an infrared laser on the nano-spirals, an effect known as frequency doubling or harmonic generation occurred, causing a visible blue light to be emitted
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When the researchers shone an infrared laser on the nano-spirals, an effect known as frequency doubling or harmonic generation occurred, causing a visible blue light to be emitted

Researchers from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee have created the world's smallest continuous spirals. Made from gold, the spirals exhibit a set of very specific optical properties that would be difficult to fake, making them ideal for use in identity cards or other items where authenticity is paramount.

The team used electron-beam lithography to create the minuscule gold spirals, subsequently testing them using ultrafast lasers at Vanderbilt University and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington.

It's not the first time that microscopic spirals have been studied by researchers, but previous efforts have focused on spirals made from individual nanoparticles rather than solid bars, like drawing in dots of ink rather than full lines. The nano-spirals in the new study are also much smaller than those in prior research, with a square array featuring some 100 nano spirals measuring less than one hundredth of a millimeter wide.

Once fabrication was complete, the team began testing the optical properties of the spirals. Each individual spiral is smaller than the wavelength of visible light, affording it some interesting and difficult-to-fake properties.

When the researchers shone an infrared laser on them, an effect known as frequency doubling or harmonic generation occurred, causing a visible blue light to be emitted. Essentially, as the light hits the spirals, it's absorbed by electrons in structure, and forced along the arms of spiral. So much energy is absorbed during the process that blue light is emitted at the center of the spiral, with double the frequency of the incoming infrared light.

When the researchers shone an infrared laser on the nano-spirals, an effect known as frequency doubling or harmonic generation occurred, causing a visible blue light to be emitted
When the researchers shone an infrared laser on the nano-spirals, an effect known as frequency doubling or harmonic generation occurred, causing a visible blue light to be emitted

Previous to the research, the strongest known frequency doubler was a synthetic crystal called beta barium borate. The spirals fabricated in the new study are much more effective at throwing out the high-frequency light than the crystal, producing four times as much blue light during testing.

The researchers also found that the spirals exhibited a very distinctive response to polarized light, which is light that vibrates in a single plane. The amount of emitted blue light varies depending on the angle of the polarized beam – something that scientists could measure and use as a stamp of material authenticity.

Furthermore, when rotating polarized light was shone on the spirals, similarly unique emissions were observed, with the amount of blue light varying depending on whether the circularly polarized light was rotating to the left or to the right.

Overall, the nano-spirals' unique response to infrared light would make them a good fit for use on identification or credit cards. The spiral arrays would be too small to see with the naked eye, but could be detected by a device akin to a barcode reader.

The team has already experimented with placing small arrays of nano-spirals on a glass substrate, but it would also be possible to fabricate them on other materials such as plastic or paper. The spirals themselves could also be constructed from different materials including silver and platinum. Given the small amount of metal involved, the costs of using such precious materials would actually be very low.

The researchers published the findings of the study in the Journal of Nanophotonics.

Source: Vanderbilt University

6 comments
Chizzy
cant quite figure out how this would stop counterfeiting. seems like anyone could make a nanospiral. unless each nano spiral creates a unique interference pattern, so a couple of them would create a unique signature justfor that specific card, much like an uncopyable id #.
PaulW
@Chizzy A few more details are available on the website of Vanderbuilt University (see link at the end of the Gizmag article or http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2015/06/worlds-smallest-spirals-could-guard-against-identity-theft/ ) "The researchers also argue that coded nano-spiral arrays could be encapsulated and placed in explosives, chemicals and drugs – any substance that someone wants to track closely – and then detected using an optical readout device.” Also "The combination of the unique characteristics of their frequency doubling and response to polarised light provide the nano-spirals with a unique, customisable signature that would be extremely difficult to counterfeit, according to the researchers.” http://www.electrooptics.com/news/news_story.php?news_id=2378 The researchers stated that the spirals can be varied so as to “encode” a unique signature. Apparently, the parameters of the nano spirals can be varied so that, given a particular input, a unique output would result. Varying the parameters (perhaps spacing, size, and composition) of the nanospirals results in different outputs. The abstract of the article in the Journal of Photonics refers to differing optical properties of "left-handed circular, linear, and right-handed circular polarizations” of the nano spirals. But I found no information regarding the degree of variability of output that could be achieved. For high security applications, we would prefer a vast array of possible outputs. But, even absent a vast array of outputs, these nanospirals could render currency more difficult to counterfeit if added to the anti counterfeiting measures already present on paper currency. Much more detailed information is available (for FREE!) in the original article in the Journal of Photonics. See: http://arxiv.org/pdf/1502.07313v1.pdf
Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret
Chizzy, the majority of us don't have access to electron-beam lithography. You're vastly underestimating the difficulty of creating such structures on such a small scale. You need expertise and the equipment.
christopher
LOL. Someone should explain to these guys what computers and cryptography are for, and how NFC or USB etc works. Maybe, on banknotes, barstaff would know a real note from a fake one by the light they make under an infrared lamp, but some countries don't seem to care about counterfeiting (eg: ones with antique paper-based currencies), and others have it utterly sorted out already (eg: the polymer notes), so they still have no market there either - and NFC is wiping out the need for cash as well anyhow.
Marc Stinebaugh
Anything can be reverse engineered, but this would certainly be more difficult for the average douche bag.