On the heels (more or less) of my Jan. 17, 2011 posting about the Simon Fraser University-related start-up company, Nanotech Security, and its anti-counterfeiting technology based on the Morpho butterfly, I came across an article about a University of Toronto-related company, Oplaux, and its anti-counterfeiting technology which is based on opals and, again, the Morpho butterfly. The Canada Foundation for Innovation article provides some details in the Fall/Winter 2009 issue of its Innovation Canada online magazine,
Inspired by the iridescent colours found in nature, such as butterfly wings, researchers at Opalux, a University of Toronto spin-off company, are recreating nature’s colours using nanotechnology. The “photonic colour” product that results can be switched on and off, offering applications in currency dyes and perishable food packaging. (p. 3)
The company is focused on more than anti-counterfeiting measures (as opposed to Nanotech Security) and food packaging, there’s also work being done on,
… a rechargeable battery whose changing surface colour indicates how much charge the battery currently holds and how much rechargeable life remains? (p. 3)
Opalux, derives its name and inspiration from opals (as well as, the Morpho butterfly mentioned previously). André Arsenault, one of Opalux’s co-founders and Chief Technology Officer, synthesized work from two researchers (Geoffrey Ozin and Ian Manners) at the University of Toronto to develop the notion of a ‘tunable and opal-like crystal’,
Ozin’s research involved the creation of synthetic nanostructures that, when exposed to light, mimic the visual qualities of an opal, the mineral renowned for its ability to appear as all colours of the rainbow. Manners was looking into producing artificial materials, particularly an iron-based polymer that could carry an electrical charge. For his thesis, Arsenault combined the two concepts to create a “tunable” opal-like crystal — a material in which you could control extremely rapid colour changes.
If you are interested in Opalux, the website is here. By contrast here’s a description of the work done by the researchers and nascent entrpreneurs at Simon Fraser University (SFU), from the Jan. 17, 2011 news release,
Imagine a hole so small that air can’t go through it, or a hole so small it can trap a single wavelength of light. Nanotech Security Corp., with the help of Simon Fraser University researchers, is using this type of nano-technology – 1,500 times thinner than a human hair and first of its kind in the world – to create unique anti-counterfeiting security features.
Landrock and Kaminska [Chris Landrock and Bozena Kaminska, SFU researchers) both continue their work as part of Nanotech’s scientific team. The company’s Nano-Optic Technology for Enhanced Security (NOtES) product stems from an idea originating in the purest form of nature – insects using colorful markings to identify themselves.
How this works is microscopic gratings composed of nanostructures interact with light to produce the shimmering iridescence seen on the Costa Rican morpho butterfly. The nanostructures act to reflect and refract light waves to produce the morpho’s signature blue wings and absorb other unwanted light.
There you have it, two different approaches to anti-counterfeiting and the beginnings of a possible case study about innovation in Canada.