Three Indian researchers at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland claimed to have developed a method to tackle the counterfeiting of whisky using laser technology. They have come up with a user-friendly device that can prove if a whisky is genuine or not with a teardrop of sample.

The research was carried out by Praveen Cheriyan Ashok, Kishan Dholakia, and Bavishna Balagopal Praveen. “The technique involves placing a tiny amount of whisky on a transparent plastic chip no bigger than a credit card. Using optical fibres the width of a human hair, the whisky sample is illuminated and the light scattered from the whisky is collected.

Chemical diagnosis

“By analysing the collection of light scattered from the whisky, we can chemically diagnose the sample,” Mr. Ashok told The Hindu in an e-mail from Scotland. He said that the key lies in the ability of the laser to detect the amount of alcohol contained in the sample, genuine whisky must contain at least 40 per cent. The method exploits both the fluorescence of whisky and the scattering of light and shift in energy when it interacts with molecules, known as its Raman signature. Explaining that the device is easy to use and can be manufactured in a cost-effective manner, Mr. Ashok said that the research team has been successful in predicting the alcohol content of liquors and also qualitatively analysing its chemical formulation.

Other than detecting counterfeit liquor samples, this can also be used for quality monitoring of liquor in their production process, he said. Professor Dholakia said that light is incredible and has led to amazing advances in the last fifty years since the advent of the laser.

Amazing

“It is amazing to think that the technology we are developing for biomedical analysis can also be used to help us enjoy a wee dram - and with the minimum of waste,” he said. Ms. Praveen said that counterfeiting is rife in the drinks industry, which is constantly searching for new, powerful and inexpensive methods for liquor analysis.

The power of light

“Using the power of light, we have adapted our technology to address a problem related to an industry, which is a crucial part of Scottish culture and economy,” she said.

Mr. Ashok said that the device can be used for analyzing any type of liquor. It is not just limited within liquor analysis. The same device can be used for analyzing food oils or any other analytes. Our technique allows rapid analysis and it will only take less than one minute to load and analyze the sample, he said.

The researchers have filed two patent applications based on this technology. “For the first generation of this device we have filed patent application in the U.S. and Canada.

For the second generation of this device (one which was used for whisky analysis) we have filed international patent application under PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty),” Mr. Ashok said. The research has been published in the journal Optics Express.