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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: Wed Apr 16 10:33:25 EDT 2014

New type of barcode could make counterfeiters’ lives more difficult

"Multicolor Barcoding in a Single Upconversion Crystal"
Journal of the American Chemical Society

Counterfeiters, beware! Scientists are reporting the development of a new type of inexpensive barcode that, when added to documents or currency, could foil attempts at making forgeries. Although the tags are easy for researchers to make, they still require ingredients you can’t exactly find at the local hardware store. Their report appears in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Xiaogang Liu and colleagues explain that scientists have used fluorescent and DNA-based barcodes, or tags of known composition and sequence, in attempts to develop tests for cancer and other diseases. But their high cost and faint signal have hampered their application in security inks. One estimate states that about $220 million in counterfeit bills are currently in circulation just in the U.S., and there’s no way to tell how many other “official” documents are fake. Liu’s team set out to thwart counterfeiters and overcome these obstacles by using microscopic “lanthanide-doped upconversion materials.” Lanthanides are a set of elements that are in a wide variety of products, including ceramics, glass and portable x-ray devices.

The team made a set of multicolor barcodes with different combinations of red, green or blue fluorescent dots on either end of a tiny lanthanide-containing microrod using an inexpensive process. They then used these microrods to produce a transparent security ink. In this format, the barcodes are easily readable with a conventional microscope fitted with a near-infrared laser, but are invisible to the naked eye. They say the materials also could find application in imaging cells from the body.

The authors acknowledge funding from the National University of Singapore, the Ministry of Education, the Singapore-MIT Alliance, and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research.

Forging money could get much harder thanks to a tiny new fluorescent barcode.
Credit: Sergiy Goruppa/Hemera/Thinkstock