Europium in Europe


periodic-talesAccording to Periodic Tales by Hugh Aldersey-Williams, every element has a use, or at least most of them do. The rare earth element, europium is used in European banknotes for security, along with TVs and  fluorescent light bulbs. It is responsible for the unique red and blue fluorescence seen when the 5 euro note is illuminated with UV light.

Europium is one of the rarest elements in the universe. It makes up only about 5×10−8 % of all matter in the universe.

Is the use europium in the euro fortuitous, or does it have a purpose? It is probably a little of both. The chemist who added europium to the euro clearly enjoyed the accomplishment, but it also adds a unique security feature to Europe’s banknote.

By the way, if you live in Europe, don’t study the banknotes carefully, since it is apparently against the law to investigate the fluorescence of banknotes. See Suyver, Europium Secures the Euro, 2002 for more information on the fluorescence of the euro.

December 2, 2016: The real reason that Europe decided to use europium may be that they could not find sufficient supplies of unicornium.


About Mark Mizen

I have over twenty years professional experience in all aspects of photography and digital imaging. I am Chair of the ISO WG5 TG2 committee responsible for physical properties and durability of imaging material and am currently with HID Global working on systems for security printing for IDs, licenses, and credit cards. Previously, I was Director of Digital Development at Creative Memories from 2009 to 2012 and was responsible for the Creative Memories digital products and services. I also established and directed the Creative Memories Technology Center, which evaluated new products prior to product introduction, assisted with production difficulties, and provided technical information to support product sales.
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