Medium: Collaborative Research: Materials Authentication Using Nuclear Quadrupole Resonance Spectroscopy

Principal Investigator: Swarup Bhunia

Sponsor: NSF

Start Date: July 15, 2016

End Date: June 30, 2020

Amount: $408,000


Counterfeit and substandard pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements, and food items containing extremely harmful contaminants have emerged as a major problem worldwide for the health industry. High-value items such as packaged medicines, which are often sold online through untrusted supply chains, are particularly prone to fraud. This project aims to develop and test novel low-cost materials authentication techniques that would enable end users to easily and reliably verify the chemical composition of medicines and dietary supplements. The widespread adoption of the proposed authentication technology could have an impact on public health by significantly enhancing the security of the supply chain for pharmaceutical and food products.

The proposed authentication approach is based on comparing the Nuclear Quadrupole Resonance (NQR) spectra generated by the material under test with reference spectra stored in a secure database. The atoms of about half of all the elements in the periodic table contain so-called quadrupolar nuclei that generate NQR signals. This project will focus on the spectra of nitrogen, which is found in a large majority of pharmaceutical products. The NQR spectra are highly sensitive to chemical composition and physical properties, and thus act as unique “chemical fingerprints” that are difficult to emulate or falsify. Low power portable electronics and an integrated system resulting in instrumentation for noninvasive, nondestructive and quantitative testing will be developed for combining sensing, software, and data collection/analysis.

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