Two South Dakota State University faculty members will train graduate students to help thwart the sale of counterfeit goods through a five-year, $3 million National Science Foundation Research Traineeship grant. They are part of a team of researchers from four South Dakota universities working on the NSF project.
Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor Brian A. Logue leads the South Dakota State University team, which also includes Assistant Sociology Professor Julie Yingling. Logue uses analytical chemistry and isotope analysis to determine authenticity of products based on their chemical signatures. Yingling examines what motivates those who sell counterfeit goods.
The estimated losses globally due to counterfeit goods will reach $1.82 trillion by 2020, according to the 2018 Global Brand Counterfeiting Report. In addition, these unregulated products can contain dyes and chemicals that are detrimental to human health.
The South Dakota researchers will prepare students from multiple disciplines to help identify and reduce the flow of counterfeit goods. “It’s a traineeship that complements what graduate students are doing on the research end,” said South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Professor John Kellar. He leads the South Dakota team and is director of the Center for Security Printing and Anti-Counterfeiting Technology (SPACT).
Kellar and associate professor Grant Crawford, both faculty in the Department of Materials and Metallurgical Engineering, work with Chemistry Professor P. Stanley May of the University of South Dakota on developing next-generation tools to mark authentic goods.
Ashley Podhradsky, an associate professor of information assurance/forensics at Dakota State University, will work on recovering and preserving digital evidences and figuring out how the supply chains on the dark web operate and how to disrupt the distribution networks.
Collaboration key research component
The SDSU, USD and SDMines researchers have been working together for nearly a decade through two South Dakota Governor’s Office of Economic Development research centers, first the PhotoActive Nanoscale Systems project and, more recently, SPACT, which began in 2014. Dakota State researchers became involved in 2016. In addition, SPACT researchers have trained undergraduate students during the summer through the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program for the last six years.
“There’s a big collaboration component to this because our culture was built that way through these other awards,” Kellar explained. Logue added, “Counterfeiting is such a complex problem that it requires an interdisciplinary approach.”
Kellar said, “We must also look at supply chains and all kinds of different global organizations. It’s a complicated ecosystem.” As part of the training program, faculty will develop and teach several graduate-level courses. In addition, the graduate assistants will have an internship with a company or agency combating counterfeiting.
Detecting counterfeits through chemical analyses
Logue estimates that SDSU’s portion of the grant will support nine graduate students, each for a single year. He is beginning to recruit students who must be U.S. citizens to qualify for the program.
Logue and his team analyze chemical composition to determine the authenticity of products, ranging from pharmaceuticals to Native American artifacts. “We can extract substances and run them through an instrument that separates the chemicals so we have a fingerprint of what it should look like if it is authentic. When we use the same method on a counterfeit, it won’t match.”
If further analysis is necessary, Logue determines isotope ratios, specifically carbon 12 and carbon 13. “There are different isotopes for nearly every atom. That C12/C13 ratio will change depending on the history of that particular molecule.”
Using these analytical methods, he can track a chemical to its point of origin, such as whether a pharmaceutical was manufactured in the United States or elsewhere. In one case, Logue and his team analyzed the isotope ratio of ink to determine the history and therefore the authenticity of a Native American artifact.
Collaborating with USD and SDMines researchers, Logue and REU student Jamie Kern explored using a security label printed with nontoxic ink and visible only under ultraviolet light as a means of distinguishing authentic pills from counterfeit ones.
The students that Logue and his collaborators train will be part of the nation’s anticounterfeiting workforce.