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Natural Randomness as a Fingerprint: Using Nanotechnology to Fight Counterfeiting

Professor Russell Cowburn *

Department of Physics, Blackett Laboratory, Imperial College London

We have found [1] that almost all paper documents, plastic cards and product packaging contain a unique physical identity code formed from naturally-occurring microscopic imperfections in the surface. This covert 'fingerprint' is intrinsic, robust and virtually impossible to modify controllably. It can be considered as a biometric identifier for inanimate objects. It can be rapidly read using a low-cost portable laser scanner, which uses the physics of laser speckle in order to probe the surface with sub-micrometre accuracy. Many forms of document and branded-product fraud could be rendered obsolete by use of this code.

[1] Nature 436, 475 (2005)

* Russell Cowburn obtained his PhD in condensed matter physics from the University of Cambridge in 1996. He then joined the Nanoscale Science Group in Cambridge University Engineering Department, where he worked as a post-doc for 1 year and as a Research Fellow of St John's College for 3 years, before being appointed to a faculty position at the University of Durham in 2000. In January 2005 he became Professor of Nanotechnology in the Department of Physics at Imperial College London, where he leads a large research group studying applications of nanotechnology to computer memory, cancer treatment and fraud prevention. He is Director of two high technology spin-out companies working in the area of nanotechnology.

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