Spotting fashion fraud

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  • Published: Aug 13, 2013
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: X-ray Spectrometry / NMR Knowledge Base / UV/Vis Spectroscopy / Raman / Base Peak / Proteomics / Atomic / MRI Spectroscopy / Infrared Spectroscopy / Chemometrics & Informatics

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When you think of forensics, you tend to think about the scene of a crime, with officers searching for traces of blood, hair, fingerprints and gunshot residue. But there are commercial sides to forensics which are important to the economy. Take fashion fraud. It is estimated that the production of fake clothing and shoes costs the UK economy about £3.5 billion each year, which is about 10% of the total value of that sector.

Detecting counterfeit materials is not easy because they can have the look and feel of the real deal. But scientists at the National Physical Laboratory have just released details of a new technique that could help customs officers to spot the fakes. It is based on terahertz time-domain spectroscopy, which uses radiation with wavelengths between those of microwaves and infrared light.

It turns out that different materials produce different signatures when terahertz waves are passed through the fabric. Writing in Applied Optics, the research team explained how wool, linen, cotton, silk and some mixed materials each gave a unique transmission spectrum that allows them to be distinguished. So, synthetic silk is different from real silk, merino wool from "common" wool and different linen mixes from each other.

This raises the possibility of building a database of the transmission spectra of materials that could be used to detect fake goods, although there is more work to be done first. Many more fabrics need to be tested and the effects of different batches from the same manufacturer need to be examined. The team are currently looking for a manufacturer to collaborate with.

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