Nature can sometimes provide solutions to the most difficult engineering and technological problems. Such is the amazing situation with the Teslagram, a security fingerprint that has been developed from examining a butterfly’s wing and is currently unhackable.
A Serbian technology student at the Institute of Physics in Belgrade believed that butterfly scales could be the ultimate security code or authenticity mark.
According to Marija Mitrovic Dankulov, the creator of the Teslagram, several technologies, including fingerprints, QR codes, bar codes, and more, are approaching the end of their useful lives.
In an interview with Free Radio Europe, the scientist at the Institute of Physics Belgrade Marija Mitrovic Dankulov uses the “starbug” story of how of a hacker named starbug took a photograph of the German Defense Minister, and managed to zoom in at a high-enough resolution to copy her fingerprint, Dankulov wants to illustrate the flaws in contemporary security measures like fingerprints, QR codes, and electronic passes. According to Dankulov, there is currently no security label that cannot be copied. But the scientist and her associates have discovered a key in nature that they are confident cannot be unlocked by a hacker.
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What makes up a butterfly’s wings?
The team’s idea was inspired by a butterfly’s wings, which are covered in millions of microscopic chitin scales that are stacked like overlapping roof tiles. The “dust” that remains on your fingers after touching a butterfly or a moth is essentially these scales.
Deja Pantelic, a colleague of Dunkulov’s, discovered something by focusing on these scales with a strong electron microscope: Each microscopic scale has a lattice with a mesh-like structure that is as distinct as a fingerprint.
The Serbian team of physicists quickly developed the concept into a working prototype security system, which they called “Teslagram” in honour of the legendary ethnic Serb inventor Nikola Tesla. The idea, according to Dankulov, is to affix a butterfly scale on an item and then enter the precise visual specifications of the scale into a database to make sure the piece is not a fake.
“Let’s imagine a museum wants to loan a very valuable art piece out to some gallery, in order to verify that the artwork they received back was the original, the museum currently has to pay an expert. explains Dankulov. The museum would alternatively be able to employ a “reader” to verify that the butterfly scale matches the visual features in the database for the artwork if the artwork had a butterfly scale attached to it anywhere on its surface.
An indecipherable butterfly “barcode”
Importantly, attempting to tamper with these butterfly “barcodes” would cause obvious harm because they are so small and delicate. Additionally, since the scales are three-dimensional, it is essentially impossible to reproduce one.
The scientists claim that any species, including those regarded as pests like the white cabbage butterfly, which is common in Serbia, can provide the special scales. The collected butterflies are kept with food and water until their life cycle is complete and they naturally pass away, which normally takes place within a few days, according to RFERL. The scales are then collected using a top-secret method that results in the small flakes being suspended in an alcohol solution.
The team is currently working to improve the idea and eventually wants to see the technology utilised for many different things, like tagging medications with Teslagrams so that users can quickly verify their legitimacy.
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