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Quantum technology helps prevent counterfeit electronics

Counterfeiters of electronic goods are going to have a harder job thanks to a new method for marking electronics on the atomic scale. A new advance in quantum physics can amplify such irregularities. This means it is possible to ‘fingerprint’ each electronic system, giving a unique optical tag identifier to electronic devices.

The extent of counterfeiting electronic goods and devices is huge, running into billions of dollars worldwide. Not only does this lead to a loss of revenue for businesses many consumers unwittingly purchase substandard or dangerous (in terms of health and safety) devices. As Internet of Things expands the risks from one device can no longer be self-contained; one faulty device connected to others can do greater damage.

Imagine, for example, what would happen if the technology designed to control autonomous cars was fake? If the item controlled the brake pads then the consequences could be catastrophic.

Scientists from Lancaster University have developed the solution and it is based on atomic-scale identifiers that relate to the types of irregularities found in two-dimensional materials, such as the ‘wonder material’ graphene. Graphene is an ultra- thin material (just one atom thick) and is highly conducive at conducting electricity. The material is strong, very flexible and has been used from coating power plants, to making flexible computing screens to filtering out contaminants from water.

Working at the atomic scale the researchers found the means to amplify such irregularities, making it possible to ‘fingerprint’ surfaces. This gives each electronic device its own unique identifier. The identifier can be read using a simple smartphone app that will quickly indicate whether the scanned device is the genuine article or a fake.

The scanning works by the app looking for an optical tag. The scanned information is then cross-checked with a database (which could be set up by the smartphone manufacturer). The new technology is expected to be rolled out during early 2018.

The new security method has been described in the journal 2D Materials. The research paper is titled “Increasing the light extraction and longevity of TMDC monolayers using liquid formed micro-lenses.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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