Researchers are working on adapting a space technology to test liquids such as whisky and fine wines for authenticity – without opening the bottle.

As well as helping to stamp out the big problem of counterfeit whisky and fine wine, this could also have major potential for airline security systems, the researchers say.

The technology, already in use to spot counterfeit medicines by scrutinising the packaging, relies on detecting the differences between the characteristics of light reflected from printed packaging. The technique was originally developed from a spectrometer built by the Space Research Centre for astronomical research.

Now researchers at the University of Leicester’s Space Research Centre and De Montfort University are adapting the technology so that a handheld device can be created to analyze liquids in bottles.

Being able to test a liquid such as whisky or wine for authenticity without opening the bottle would bring major benefits to the drinks industry, as well as having opportunities in other fields, such as airport and airline security, says Richard Worrall of Food and Drink iNet, which is supporting the project.

The iNet funding will enable us to design, build and test a laboratory prototype that will allow us to prove the technology works, says Tim Maskell, Knowledge Transfer Manager in the Space Research Centre at the University of Leicester. If we can then take the technology and do something similar with other liquids there are potential airport security opportunities too.