They are on banknotes, casino chips, and even college degrees. For several years, luminescent markers have incorporated the material of everyday objects. Invisible to the naked eye, they are detectable by specific readers and thus make it possible to fight against counterfeits.
To go even further, the National Institute of Applied Sciences and the Institute of Chemical Sciences of Rennes (1) as well as the company Olnica have created the joint laboratory “ChemInTag” (Chemical inorganic taggants) to develop luminescent markers of new generation.
Metal and glass, materials impossible to mark
“These markers are made up of lanthanide ions, chemical elements that have luminescent optical properties. We can mix and link them by organic molecules and manufacture an infinite number of structures, which can be integrated into mass-produced objects in industry, without changing the manufacturing process., explains Olivier Guillou, professor at Insa and director of the ChemInTag laboratory.
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Sending an excitation wave to the marker causes a response in the form of another wavelength. This signal confirms the manufacturing origin of the product. “Anything plastic, textile, paper, ink, resin, paint, can be marked in the mass, but not metal and glass due to excessively high manufacturing temperatures”, says the director.
A database of markers that can be consulted with a smartphone
The creation of the joint laboratory, made up of around twenty researchers and a dozen employees, has made it possible to improve the performance of the markers resulting from Insa research and to transfer them to Olnica, which has developed readers that can be used by industrialists. The composition of the luminescent markers is integrated into a database, which can be queried from a smart mobile phone. “This approach makes it possible to combine our perception of the market with new ideas from the laboratory, to invent the tracers of tomorrow”, rejoices Nicolas Kerbellec, president of Olnica.
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A joint CNRS/Company laboratory is created every fortnight. According to the CNRS, this flexible structure is essential for removing scientific and technological obstacles. Hundreds of innovations would have seen the light of day there.