Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Cold War Invisible Ink Secrets Unlocked

Date:
November 8, 2006
Source:
Michigan State University
Summary:
Two Michigan State University researchers are the first to unlock the secrets of the invisible ink used by East Germany's secret police force, the Stasi, and in the process have mixed a batch of chemistry, history and mystery to teach students.

Two Michigan State University researchers are the first to unlock the secrets of the invisible ink used by East Germany's secret police force, the Stasi, and in the process have mixed a batch of chemistry, history and mystery to teach students.

Kristie Macrakis, a historian of science, and Ryan Sweeder, a chemist, both of MSU's Lyman Briggs School of Science, teamed up to piece together the once-secret chemical formula for behind the Stasi's invisible ink.

"Secret writing is a classic method of communication for spies," Macrakis said. "This is a high-level formula. It's not just lemon juice. It's much more sophisticated."

The Stasi's technique of transferring top-secret messages worked like a piece of carbon paper. An agent would place a piece of paper impregnated with the chemical cerium oxalate between two pieces of plain paper. As the agent pressed down to write, the chemical was transferred to the piece of paper beneath.

The person on the receiving end of the message then developed the note with a solution of manganese sulfate, hydrogen peroxide and other chemicals. The process activated the cerium oxalate to reveal the hidden text. A successful reaction yielded orange writing.

"From a chemical standpoint, this is very cool," Sweeder said.

The Stasi -- the former East German Ministry for State Security -- was created, in part, by Soviet KGB agents shortly after World War II. At that time, Germany was divided into two regions: the communist controlled East Germany and the democratic West. Stasi functioned as both internal security unit and foreign intelligence officers.

"It's like having the CIA and the FBI under one roof," Macrakis said.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the confidential archives of the Stasi were declassified. A few years later Macrakis discovered in those archives the incomplete formula for the secret ink and development process.

Macrakis approached Sweeder and another MSU chemist in hopes of determining the missing pieces to the ink formula.

"We wanted to decipher the question marks in the formula. We knew nothing about amounts and concentrations," Sweeder said.

With the help of undergraduate students Kevin Kalinowski and Elizabeth Bell, Macrakis and Sweeder solved a Stasi secret and created a chemistry lab dubbed the "Spy Lab."

In the Spy Lab, students become counter-intelligence agents trying to prevent a terrorist attack on a university building. Students are handed a torn piece of paper recovered from the crime scene with the location of the imaginary bomb written in Stasi invisible ink. It's up to the student counter- intelligence officers to determine the quantities of the chemicals needed to develop the message and thwart the operation.

The Spy Lab helps students learn about catalysis, redox reactions, kinetics and pH. Participants also learn the historical background of the Stasi and the politics that created the repressive ministry.

"This project braids history and science together and brings researchers together," Macrakis said. "The students find it intriguing."

Macrakis and her colleagues presented the work in early November at the 2006 Sigma Xi, a scientific research society, meeting in Detroit.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Michigan State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Michigan State University. "Cold War Invisible Ink Secrets Unlocked." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 November 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/11/061108103815.htm>.
Michigan State University. (2006, November 8). Cold War Invisible Ink Secrets Unlocked. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/11/061108103815.htm
Michigan State University. "Cold War Invisible Ink Secrets Unlocked." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/11/061108103815.htm (accessed August 1, 2014).

Share This




More Matter & Energy News

Friday, August 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways

Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways

AP (July 30, 2014) British officials said on Wednesday that driverless cars will be tested on roads in as many as three cities in a trial program set to begin in January. Officials said the tests will last up to three years. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
7 Ways to Use Toothpaste: Howdini Hacks

7 Ways to Use Toothpaste: Howdini Hacks

Howdini (July 30, 2014) Fresh breath and clean teeth are great, but have you ever thought, "my toothpaste could be doing more". Well, it can! Lots of things! Howdini has 7 new uses for this household staple. Video provided by Howdini
Powered by NewsLook.com
Amid Drought, UCLA Sees Only Water

Amid Drought, UCLA Sees Only Water

AP (July 30, 2014) A ruptured 93-year-old water main left the UCLA campus awash in 8 million gallons of water in the middle of California's worst drought in decades. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow

Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow

AP (July 30, 2014) Smartphone powered paper airplane that was popular on crowdfunding website KickStarter makes its debut at Wisconsin airshow (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins