National Physical Laboratory

Taking security into a new dimension

NPL has used nanotechnology to create a code that cannot be cracked. It has vast potential applications for the prevention of counterfeiting and the storage of data.

The 3D nanobarcode is an irregularly shaped silicon cube measuring 30 microns by 30 microns. Its coated surface is divided into 90,000 tiny squares, each of them drilled by an electron-beam lithograph to one of five depths ranging from zero to 80 nm.

Page of code

A code based on the relationship between the squares would allow for about nine billion permutations. Even allowing for a computer crunching a million permutations a second, it would take more than ten times the life of the universe to crack it.

Data contained on the tiny artefact is equivalent to the information in four bibles being crammed onto the sharp end of a pin.

Because the tiny scale of the device makes it virtually impossible to detect or to reproduce, it could form the next generation of security on banknotes, passports, security paper and licences.

For further information contact Markys Cain

Find out more about NPL's research in Defence & Security and Advanced Materials

Last Updated: 10 Jan 2013
Created: 12 Nov 2010


Please note that the information will not be divulged to third parties, or used without your permission