Counterfeiting is a booming industry; the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimated in 2009 that it generates approximately $250 billion in illegal revenue. What's more, the industry has expanded rapidly in the last decade to include goods like olive oil and drugs like birth control. As a means of helping to curb the trend, MIT scientists are currently developing microscopic nanocrystals that can be applied to goods and legal tender. The hope is that these crystals will make it easier for everyday consumers to detect fakes with only their smartphones.
MIT's nanocrystals measure about 200 microns long, or roughly the width of a hair. The crystals can be dyed with rare earth minerals in unique polymer stream patterns, with each pattern used to identify legitimate products or currencies against what in the future could be a database of these security tags. Crucially, the patterns glow under UV light and can be detected by an iPhone with the help of an app and a special lens offering twentyfold magnification — though MIT of course hopes that what's right now a bulky piece of equipment will be shrunk down over time.
MIT believes that this novel approach could help reduce the harm down by counterfeiting. If the researchers' method does in fact catch on, hopefully it isn't subverted like other techniques used in the past.