Chemistry of money

Euro Banknotes under UV Light

Today’s news has returned to the discussion of many of the financial problems currently hitting the euro zone, and following on from yesterdays Chemstuff post on rare earth elements, I thought I would post about how chemistry is used to prevent the production of counterfeit money.

Bank notes round the world are filled with some amazing and complex security features. To create some of these measures, plenty of incredible chemistry is used to help prevent fraud with many different methods used.

So far you might be asking what link between rare earth elements and bank notes could possibly exist? You may be surprised to learn that rare earth elements are actually used in the production of several security features within bank notes.

Using a UV lamp to check banknotes

Rare earth elements, as explained in yesterdays post, have really useful light emitting properties as they can fluoresce under certain wavelengths of light. Many rare earth elements are used on bank notes, in particular Euro’s which are covered in fluorescent areas. You can see in the image above that when Euro notes are placed under UV light they change quite spectacularly.

The same technique is used within the British currency and if you ever have a chance to put a £50 note under a UV light, do try it out, the results may well surprise you!

Australian banknotes

The real winners of the prize for using chemistry to prevent fraud are the Australians. Australian currency is made from a special polymer which is very difficult to forge. Security features that can be used with this technology include the polymer itself (which is very difficult to forge as its chemistry is specific to each bank note) coupled with see through windows in the notes, watermarks and micro-printing on the notes.

As chemists, bank notes contain fascinating methods to protect a countries currency. So next time you have one in your hand just take a moment to look closer at it and see if you can spot all of them, just make sure it’s the real thing before you start trying!