South Dakota uni wins NSF grants for illicit trade projects

South Dakota School of Mines & Technology has been awarded grants worth $3.3m for two projects targeting illicit trade and counterfeiting.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $3m grant to a project – called the Cyber-Physical-Social System for Understanding and Thwarting the Illicit Economy – that forms part of a $51m initiative to develop graduate education traineeship models in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

SD Mines’ project is led by Jon Kellar, a professor of materials and metallurgical engineering at SD Minescombines three collaborative research areas. The first deals in the physical world, including the effort to identify counterfeit items, such as pharmaceuticals, and work on anti-counterfeiting efforts such as the use of nanoparticle-based inks in unique markings to identify authentic goods.

A second branch of study focuses on the cyber world - covering Internet-based investigations, such as digital forensics, and an effort to better understand the cyber/physical interface - while the third addresses the social world “in building a cultural understanding of the counterfeiting and illicit economy”. That includes understanding crime trends and the human factor in the design of anti-counterfeiting systems.

The second, $300,000 NSF grant is being shared between SD Mines and Colorado State University and will be used to study how illegal networks operate and find ways to target and taken them down. SD Mines’ work will focus on “printing of security features on goods that might be targeted by counterfeiters,” says Kellar.

Kellar is director of the Center for Security Printing and Anti-Counterfeiting Technology (SPACT), which is developing technologies such as nanoparticle-based inks that are invisible to the naked eye but are revealed under the proper wavelength of light, and covert quick response (QR) codes that can be printed in cutting edge invisible inks on various products to help verify their authenticity.

“These security features will allow us to follow the flow of the goods in the supply chain by tracking and tracing their transport,” he says.

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