NPL synthesises novel security ink

Security ink-Optimized

NPL researchers have synthesised a security ink that emits intense red colour due to fluorescence when exposed to 254 nm wavelength UV and emits green colour due to phosphorescence soon after the UV source is turned off.

A novel security ink that emits intense red colour when exposed to 254 nm wavelength UV and emits green colour soon after the UV source is turned off has been synthesised by a team of researchers from the Delhi-based national Physical Laboratory (CSIR-NPL). The emission of red is due to fluorescence while green is due to phosphorescence phenomenon. Both red and green can be clearly seen by naked eyes under ambient conditions.

The red colour is emitted at 611 nm wavelength while the green is emitted at 532 nm. The ink has the potential to be used as a security feature on currency notes and passports.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report of an ink that contains two pigments that emit different colours at very different wavelengths when exposed to UV light of a particular wavelength,” says Dr. Bipin Kumar Gupta from NPL who led the team of researchers. The results were published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry C.

What makes two emissions possible

Unlike in other materials, the ink shows phosphorescence as the emission of the red pigment is not quenched by the green pigment while UV lamp is on as the two have very different emission wavelengths — 611 nm for red and 532 nm for green. Also, when exposed to 254 nm UV light, the excitation spectrum of one does not cover the other.

The team first synthesised the pigments that emit red and green colours. For the red pigment, sodium yttrium fluorite doped with europium was synthesised through hydrothermal method. For the green, the researchers mixed strontium aluminium oxide and doped it with europium and dysprosium.

“We have to use two dopants for the green pigment as continuous generation of photons is needed for phosphorescence. In this case, the europium provides the electrons while dysprosium provides the holes. The electrons and holes recombine to create photons,” explains Dr. Gupta.

The shape makes it possible

The red and green pigments synthesised separately are mixed in 3:1 weight ratio and heated to 400 degree C for three hours. “Annealing [heating] at 400 degree C ensures that the rods [of sodium yttrium fluorite red pigment] adhere to the spheres [of the strontium aluminium oxide green pigment],” says Dr. Gupta. “If the two pigments are mixed without annealing then the two pigments would separate out during ink formation and the desired property of the ink to produce dual emission with single excitation will not be possible.”

The ink is prepared by dispersing the two pigments that have been mixed at a high temperature in a commercially available polyvinyl chloride (PVC) medium and vigorously stirred for an hour.

“The advantage of having the rods sticking to the spheres is that the rods don’t cover the spheres completely and so both the pigments are exposed to UV irradiation,” says Amit Kumar Gangwar from NPL and first author of the paper. “In the core-shell structure that we tried, the shell tends to block UV excitation and so the emission of the material that forms the core is reduced.”

While the green phosphorescence is seen even if the ink is briefly exposed to UV radiation, exposing the ink to UV for 15 minutes ensures that the phosphorescence lasts for about four hours.

Durable and stable

The researchers found the images printed on ordinary paper using the ink exhibited excellent physical durability and chemical stability. There was no noticeable change in emission from the images even at the end of six months when exposed to both high (about 42 degree C) and low (10 degree C) temperatures and high humidity. No change in the emission was seen when the images were exposed to various bleaching solutions. “We carried out accelerated testing and found that the images can be stable for more than 20 years,” says Dr. Gupta.

Published in The Hindu on October 12, 2019