Wolfson graduate pioneers ''life-saving'' brand protection technology

Image credit: e-Magine Art

Cambridge University scientist Dr Damian Gardiner has developed a new "liquid crystal" material which he believes could help to combat the global counterfeit goods industry, which costs major brands between £330 billion and £1.1 trillion a year.

Dr Gardiner gained an engineering PhD from Wolfson, before founding Illumink, a university spin-out company three years ago. In March the firm was purchase by Tracerco, part of the Royston-based Johnson Matthew.

It has taken 10 years of work to produce the material which can be printed using standard injet printers (a key cost saving) onto any product, with several layers of authentication that are impossible to fake.

The "liquid crystal" works in several ways, as Gardiner described to The Telegraph: "You can tilt the object and the unique ID will show a different colour iridescence. But you can also probe the printed feature with a reader to see a further signature."

The implications of this discovery go beyond lost money. The World Health Organisation recently reported that one million people die each year from ingesting counterfeit medicine, a number that could be reduced by applying the “liquid crystal” to bottles. One second-year MML student was particularly impressed to see such a ''practical, life-saving technology'', come out of research that seemed ''boring and potentially useless''. 

Counterfeiters are becoming ever-more sophisticated and gaining access to far more advanced technology - it is thought that some groups even have the ability to reproduce holographic markers.

However, securing the initial customers could prove problematic. An innovation such as this requires large scale take up in order to fulfil its purpose and companies are notoriously unwilling to adopt untested security products. Before the product can be used, retailers, consumers and law enforcement officials have to be equipped with readers and trained in how to spot the authentic marks, all of which costs money. Dr Gardiner is currently trialling the product with potential customers and commented that ''It's challenging  to find those early adopters. Getting anything that’s new and radical out there is always difficult. You need one big customer to make the first move.''

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