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Home > Keeping It Real: The Science of Authenticity

Keeping It Real: The Science of Authenticity


Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – except when it’s substandard milk spiked with melamine that sickens babies, or the false amber that affects the economy of a region in Mexico, or adulterated fuels that cause governments to lose tax revenues and help to finance criminal enterprises.

The cost of such counterfeit products is staggering – nearly $2 trillion worldwide in 2015, according to the International Chamber of Commerce. But science is helping product researchers, authenticators and regulators to fight back, with spectroscopy and optical sensing technologies among the valuable tools for product authentication, identification and verification.

Anti-Counterfeiting Measures using Spectroscopy

Spectroscopy can’t eradicate the primary motivators of counterfeiting – greed and self-interest – but it can help to deter the flow of deceptive and illegal practices affecting items including documentation, food and beverages, drugs and medications, gemstones and luxury goods, and fuels such as gasoline and diesel.

Here is just a sampling of techniques and anti-counterfeiting applications enabled by UV-Vis, NIR and Raman spectroscopy:

Techniques Best for Sample Applications
salmon filets
UV-Vis-Shortwave NIR absorbance, reflectance and transmission Authentication of adulterated products, substitutions and contaminants Authentication of spirits
Qualification of color and other brand characteristics
Identification of high-value edible oils by spectral characteristics
Surface-enhanced Raman Spectroscopy (SERS) High-sensitivity detection of trace levels of additives and contaminants Detection of trace levels of contaminants including melamine, fungicides and pesticides
Green Gas Pump Small
Fluorescence, Raman, SERS High-sensitivity detection of covert fuel markers Authentication of fuels at point of origin
Determination of fuel grade and quality
Raman, SERS Detection of drugs in impaired drivers and emergency room patients Rapid, low-cost testing for deliberate and unintentional drug intoxication


Category Techniques
Best for Sample Applications
Fluorescence, photoluminescence, Raman Discriminating natural stones from artificial Determining the origin of amber and other gems
Detecting synthetic diamonds, emeralds and rubies
Identifying cultured freshwater pearls
Fluorescence, , UV-Vis reflectance, SERS, luminescence Detection of fluorescent inks and markers to determine authenticity Authenticating banknotes and other currencies
Identifying UV-sensitive inks and markers
Determining age and origin of documents
Art Forgeries
Fluorescence, UV-Vis reflectance, Raman, SERS, LIBS Determination of pigment color and composition Examination of pigments, methods and materials in paintings, frescoes and other artworks