Europium is apparently used as an anti-counterfeiting measure in Euro bank notes because of its fluorescence under UV light.

Is there any reason why it is specifically $\ce{Eu}$ and not any of the other lanthanides that fluoresce as well?

Is it because $\ce{Eu}$ is relatively rare and expensive so it's harder to fake? Is it because it has a very characteristic fluorescence? Is it because they just thought it's funny to use $\ce{Eu}$ in Euros?

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    $\begingroup$ I want to think its because of the name but I wouldn't think its the best reason. $\endgroup$ – Ali Caglayan Jun 12 '15 at 11:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Alizter It might well be. See my answer for more detail. $\endgroup$ – bon Jun 12 '15 at 12:17

As already noted by the OP, many rare earths fluoresce under ultraviolet light and there seems to be no particular reason why Europium is a better choice than any other element, purely based on its fluorescent properties. (See update at bottom)

The European Central Bank keeps the exact nature of the compounds used a secret. However, it was discovered in 2002 by Frank Suijver and Andries Meijerink [1] that europium, complexed with two $\beta$ diketone molecules provides the red light but the other colours were more difficult to identify.

However, the reason for the choice of Europium is unclear. According to Hugh Aldersey-Williams[2]:

It [the European Central Bank] wilfully misunderstands my request to know who fought for Europium and drearily asks for my 'understanding that, for security reasons, we cannot comment on the chemical components of the euro banknote security features.'

Apparently, in the original paper by Suijver and Meijerink they say that they were visited several years beforehand by European Bank officials who were investigating potential luminescent materials so it may be that they inadvertently gave the bank the idea for using Europium in its banknotes.

Europium is one of the more expensive lanthanides and so this is probably a factor in its usage to prevent against forgeries, as the OP suggests.

I suspect there is also simply an element of irony in the fact that Europium is used in Euro bank notes and it may be that it was just some bank official tasked with finding a suitable compound to use who thought that it would be funny to use Europium.

Anyway, the bottom line appears to be that nobody knows the reason because the European Central Bank refuses to tell anyone anything about the compounds they use.

UPDATE: In response to @Nicolau Saker Neto's comment I did some more research into the fluorescence of Europium. Europium(III) (red) is regularly used alongside Europium(II) (blue) and Terbium(III) (green) in trichromatic lighting systems. It may therefore be the case that Europium was chosen because it is already well studied and in common use and that they created a $\beta$ diketone complex in order to fine tune the exact wavelength of the emissions and make it unique to their banknotes.


[1] http://dspace.library.uu.nl/handle/1874/25831 (Paper in Dutch which I can't read. However, Williams refers to some of the content in his book and I have alluded to this above. If anyone can translate the original paper and add anything to the answer that would be very helpful.)

[2]Hugh Aldersey-Williams; 'Periodic Tales: The Curious Lives of the Elements'; ISBN 978-0-141-04145-2 http://www.amazon.co.uk/Periodic-Tales-Curious-Lives-Elements/dp/0141041455

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    $\begingroup$ I once attended a criminal forensics seminar which discussed mixing small amounts of lanthanides in gunpowder, and I seem to recall that europium (red) and terbium (green) were found to be particularly useful, I think due to strong fluorescence. I've forgotten the details, though. $\endgroup$ – Nicolau Saker Neto Jun 12 '15 at 12:28
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting. I will do some more research in a bit. $\endgroup$ – bon Jun 12 '15 at 12:31
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    $\begingroup$ Well, knowing exactly which lanthanides are in Euro bank notes is not that hard - just stick one into an ICP-MS instrument, found in just about every university and research lab in the world. $\endgroup$ – Gimelist Jun 12 '15 at 12:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Michael Apparently when they were investigating the emissions of the banknotes they were warned that 'any further investigation into what causes the luminescence of euro notes would constitute a violation of the law' so what you are suggesting would probably also be illegal. $\endgroup$ – bon Jun 12 '15 at 13:28
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    $\begingroup$ @bon, only illegal in the EU, I presume. $\endgroup$ – Noah Spurrier Jun 12 '15 at 15:38

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