Nanotechnology and AI Partner to Create Smart Anticounterfeiting Tags

Nanotechnology and AI team up to create smart anti-counterfeit tags

In a study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfacesa mix of chemistry, nanomaterials and artificial intelligence (AI) was used to produce a simple yet cryptographic measure against counterfeiting.

Study: Nanocatalyst-enabled physically unclonable functions as smart anti-counterfeit tags with AI-assisted smartphone authentication† Image credit: Cavan-Images/

The need for effective anti-counterfeiting techniques

The need for robust anti-counterfeiting solutions is driving scientific and corporate research to improve the authenticity and safety of products. The spread of counterfeit products is a huge nuisance around the world, especially in the retail and pharmaceutical industries. Fake pharmaceuticals endanger patients and endanger public health, resulting in high economic and social costs for both developed and developing countries.

To put the magnitude of the problem into perspective, counterfeit drugs to treat pneumonia and malaria kill about 250,000 children every year. Such a big problem requires a serious technical effort to develop powerful anti-counterfeiting technologies that are also in line with the market constraints.

Numerous substances and chemical procedures have been proposed as biometric markers. These range from intricate ink assemblies used in banknotes to luminescent op-converting nano-phosphorus tags, inkjet-printable conjugated polymer platforms or molecular identifiers such as peptides, DNA and polymers that promise great coding capabilities and secrecy.

However, these technologies can be cloned. In addition, they often require expensive hardware and highly skilled workers, limiting their practical use.

Nanotechnology can improve PUFs

This system incorporates a highly advanced anti-counterfeiting technique using physically non-clonable functions (PUFs) based on various markers created by chemical procedures in a stochastic mechanism. The unpredictability created by the non-deterministic technique makes replicating the PUF key virtually impossible when the PUF sequence is digitized and stored.

If there are not enough different markers to secure a significant number of objects, the encryption capacity of PUFs can be limited. Due to the unpredictability and vast parametric space afforded by nanostructures in combination with physiochemical procedures, this problem can be solved if PUFs are made using nanotechnology-based methods that offer significant coding potential that translates into a large amount of different markers.

Critical Aspects of PUFs

The distinguishing physical feature is often a random two-dimensional or three-dimensional pattern, leading to different visual measurements. Certain nanotechnology-based PUFs, such as randomized speckle patterns with glass microbeads, inkjet-printed non-clonable quantum dot (QD) fluorescent tags, and randomized patterns of Au nanoparticles (NP) or Ag nanowire (NW).

Tag reading is critical because several approaches rely on complex hardware for verification, such as darkfield, fluorescence, or electron microscopy, reducing their applicability to common supply chain needs, such as mobility, speed, repeatability, and lower cost of the procedure. is limited.

Most notable features of the study

The technique proposed in this study aimed to achieve all of the above desirable characteristics, by providing an adequate anti-counterfeiting approach through a rapid (1 minute), reversible and equipment-free colorimetry measurement, facilitated by nanoscale Pt catalysts, which would be useful at any intersection of the delivery network, even the end user.

Thanks to the creation of a reliable AI method for fast and reliable visual marker authentication based on Deep Learning and Computer Vision approaches, this nanotechnology-enabled system can be easily encrypted and then authorized via a mobile phone.

Key learning points

In this study, the team demonstrated the possibility of merging chemistry, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence to develop new cross-disciplinary techniques aimed at addressing critical sustainability and security challenges.

An advanced reversible PUF marker was presented that combined the achievement of clear patterns with substantial encryption capabilities with a visual colorimetry reading perceivable by the human eye and analyzable using a mobile phone.

The team’s approach provided great ease of authentication (ie visual reading without equipment) and advanced encryption capabilities by taking advantage of the catalytic properties of nanoparticles. The proposed technique can be improved by creating different stochastic patterns and platforms, resulting in even higher levels of security.

The ability to achieve repeated verification cycles in environmental environments, thanks to the rapid (ON/OFF) color emergence/fade system evoked by the nanoscale platinum catalysts, opens up new avenues for in-situ analysis of potential counterfeits of high value goods across the entire delivery network, from quality control after production to individual evaluation by the end user.


Moglianetti, M., Pedone, D. et al† (2022). Nanocatalyst-enabled physically unclonable functions as smart anti-counterfeit tags with AI-assisted smartphone authentication. ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces

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