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Whisky a no-go

Scientists have shed new light on counterfeit whisky, thanks to the power of lasers.

Using a ray of light the size of a human hair, the team of researchers at the University of St Andrews have developed a new method for testing whether a whisky is genuine or not.

The novel method can work out the brand, age and even which cask was used to create a single malt, from a sample no bigger than a teardrop.

The research, which has been patented and is being presented to industry, was carried out by physicists Praveen Ashok, Kishan Dholakia and Bavishna Praveen.

Mrs Praveen explained, “Counterfeiting is rife in the drinks industry, which is constantly searching for new, powerful and inexpensive methods for liquor analysis.

“Using the power of light, we have adapted our technology to address a problem related to an industry which is a crucial part of Scottish culture and economy.”

The research involves researchers placing a tiny amount of whisky on a transparent plastic chip no bigger than a credit card.

Using optical fibres the width of a human hair, the whisky sample is illuminated by light using one fibre, and collected by another.  By analysing the collection of light scattered from the whisky, the researchers are able to diagnose the sample.

The key lies in the fact that the laser can detect the amount of alcohol contained in the sample – genuine whisky must contain at least 40%.

The method exploits both the fluorescence of whisky and the scattering of light and shift in energy when it interacts with molecules (known as its ‘Raman signature’).

Mr Ashok commented, “Whisky turns out to be very interesting: we can not only gather information about the alcohol content, but also the colour and texture. These are dictated by the manufacturing process, which of course influences greatly the type of whisky people enjoy”.

The chip used in the study was originally employed in the detection of bio-analytes by the group in biomedical studies.

Professor Dholakia added, “Light is incredible and has led to amazing advances in the last fifty years since the advent of the laser.

“It is amazing to think that the technology we are developing for biomedical analysis can also be used to help us enjoy a wee dram – and with the minimum of waste.”

The research is published by the journal Optics Express.

ENDS

The researchers are available for interview:

Kishan Dholakia, email kd1@st-andrews.ac.uk or telephone: 01334 463814

Praveen Ashok, email pca7@st-andrews.ac.uk or telephone: 01334 461656

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