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Hong Kong: Diamond-Based Anti-Counterfeiting Labels

Image Credits: HKU, Press Release
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Counterfeiting has emerged as a formidable challenge across a variety of sectors, from pharmaceuticals to electronics. The far-reaching impact of this issue encompasses substantial economic losses, safety concerns, and health hazards. In response, a relentless technological race has ensued between counterfeiters and anti-counterfeiting advocates, marked by an escalating arms race.

The realm of anti-counterfeiting tools has witnessed a steady evolution towards high-tech solutions, encompassing holograms, thermochromic ink, and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. Despite these advancements, counterfeit products continue to emulate genuine articles with growing accuracy, driven by the rapid integration of sophisticated technologies by counterfeiters.

A significant breakthrough has emerged in this battle, led by Dr Zhiqin Chu from the University of Hong Kong, together with collaborators Professor Lei Shao from Sun Yat-sen University and Professor Qi Wang from Peking University’s Dongguan Institute of Opto-Electronics. Their innovative response to counterfeiting centres around diamond-based anti-counterfeiting labels, which introduce a pioneering concept known as Physically Unclonable Functions (PUFs).

The foundation of these labels is rooted in the application of diamond microparticles, small artificial diamonds, onto a silicon plate through Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD) techniques. These diamond microparticles, each distinct in shape and size, create a distinctive pattern upon scattering across the silicon substrate. The resulting pattern is inherently impossible to replicate, as it refracts light in an entirely unique manner. In essence, it generates an exclusive “fingerprint” that can be effortlessly scanned using commonplace smartphones.

Augmenting this uniqueness and bolstering security is the presence of silicon-vacancy (SiV) centres within these diamond microparticles. These SiV centres confer a distinct optical attribute, emitting near-infrared photoluminescence when illuminated with green light.

This distinct optical signature facilitates easy identification. The data generated by these signatures can be amalgamated and digitised into intricate, highly secure codes. These codes can be readily interpreted by simple smartphone scanners or confocal fluorescence microscopes.

Integral to their viability for widespread commercial adoption, these diamond-based labels exhibit exceptional resilience. Rigorous testing showcased their resistance to extreme heat, chemical exposure, and physical damage. The cost-effectiveness of production further reinforces their suitability for mass utilisation. Remarkably, crafting 10,000 labels measuring 200 µm × 200 µm costs just a single US dollar. The incorporation of diamonds into these anti-counterfeiting labels bestows an added value to the products they safeguard.

The commercial readiness of these labels is underlined by Dr Chu, who notes that the team’s immediate focus is on practical implementation. The technology’s applicability extends to an array of high-end products, ranging from jewellery and luxury goods to electronics and automobiles.

The results of this pioneering endeavour have been documented in a publication titled “Multimodal dynamic and unclonable anticounterfeiting using robust diamond microparticles on the heterogeneous substrate,” featured in Nature Communications.

In a world where technology fuels both counterfeiting and anti-counterfeiting efforts, this breakthrough promises a decisive shift in the balance of power. The fusion of diamond microparticles and advanced optical properties presents an insurmountable barrier to counterfeiters, while the simplicity of detection ensures accessibility for consumers. As the battle against counterfeiting rages on, this innovation holds the potential to safeguard industries and consumers alike, heralding a new era of secure authenticity.

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