Self-wrinkling mini-mazes may foil hackers

Three different maze configurations produced by wrinkling.
Three different maze configurations produced by wrinkling.
Bae et al.

Mazes have always been used to entertain, but new research suggests that micro-mazes might one day serve as digital fingerprints for computer security.

Hyung Bae and colleagues from Seoul National University, South Korea have developed a new technology for creating specific mini-mazes by wrinkling a sheet of silica-based substrate.

Earlier research had used external forces and geometrical constraints to induce wrinkling in a smooth sheet of substrate, which resulted in the formation of ridges that move in various directions to create a maze. However, past wrinkling methods have created mini-mazes with little specificity due to a lack of control mechanisms.

Bae’s team have now developed an “elaborate wrinkle control process” to enhance the specificity of the mini-maze. The process involved creating a “photomask” – an opaque plate containing holes for light to pass through in a specific pattern. They describe their research in a paper in Science Advances.

UV light was then used to imprint exact geometric designs onto the plate in horizontal and vertical orientations. This was used as a guide for the wrinkling process by being placed underneath the silica platform. This meant that when wrinkling occurred the ridges could only move in specific, pre-ordained directions. 

This should allow for future mini-mazes to be structurally more precise for any application they are being prepared for. The authors believe that the mazes could be useful in computer security by serving as what are called “physical unclonable functions” – i.e. unique physical patterns that serve to undergird encryption and identification, in much the same way that fingerprints can uniquely identify people.

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