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'Watermark ink' device identifies unknown liquids instantly
Date:8/3/2011

nverse opal. The inverse opal is a layered glass structure with an internal network of ordered, interconnected air pores.

Co-authors Lidiya Mishchenko (a graduate student at SEAS) and Benjamin D. Hatton (a research appointee at SEAS and a technology development fellow at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard), recently perfected the production process of large-scale, highly ordered inverse opals.

"Two factors determine whether the color changes upon the introduction of a liquid: the surface chemistry and the degree of order in the pore structure," says Mishchenko, who works in the Aizenberg lab. "The more ordered the structure, the more control you can have over whether or not the liquid enters certain pores by just changing their surface chemistry."

Burgess and his colleagues discovered that selectively treating parts of the inverse opal with vaporized chemicals and oxygen plasma creates variations in the reactive properties of the pores and channels, letting certain liquids passthrough while excluding others.

Allowing liquid into a pore changes the material's optical properties, so the natural color of the inverse opal shows up only in the dry regions.

Each chip is calibrated to recognize only certain liquids, but it can be used over and over (provided the liquid evaporates between tests).

With the hope of commercializing the W-Ink technology, the researchers are currently developing more precisely calibrated chips and conducting field tests with government partners for applications in quality assurance and contaminant identification.

"If you want to detect forgeries," says Burgess, "you can tune your sensor to be acutely sensitive to one specific formulation, and then anything that's different stands out, regardless of the composition."

One immediate application would allow authorities to verify the fuel grade of gasoline right at the pump. Burgess also envisions
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Contact: Caroline Perry
cperry@seas.harvard.edu
617-496-1351
Harvard University
Source:Eurekalert

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