A large-scale superhydrophobic surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) platform fabricated via capillary force lithography and assembly of Ag nanocubes for ultratrace molecular sensing
An analytical platform with an ultratrace detection limit in the atto-molar (aM) concentration range is vital for forensic, industrial and environmental sectors that handle scarce/highly toxic samples. Superhydrophobic surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) platforms serve as ideal platforms to enhance detection sensitivity by reducing the random spreading of aqueous solution. However, the fabrication of superhydrophobic SERS platforms is generally limited due to the use of sophisticated and expensive protocols and/or suffers structural and signal inconsistency. Herein, we demonstrate a high-throughput fabrication of a stable and uniform superhydrophobic SERS platform for ultratrace molecular sensing. Large-area box-like micropatterns of the polymeric surface are first fabricated using capillary force lithography (CFL). Subsequently, plasmonic properties are incorporated into the patterned surfaces by decorating with Ag nanocubes using the Langmuir–Schaefer technique. To create a stable superhydrophobic SERS platform, an additional 25 nm Ag film is coated over the Ag nanocube-decorated patterned template followed by chemical functionalization with perfluorodecanethiol. Our resulting superhydrophobic SERS platform demonstrates excellent water-repellency with a static contact angle of 165° ± 9° and a consequent analyte concentration factor of 59-fold, as compared to its hydrophilic counterpart. By combining the analyte concentration effect of superhydrophobic surfaces with the intense electromagnetic “hot spots” of Ag nanocubes, our superhydrophobic SERS platform achieves an ultra-low detection limit of 10−17 M (10 aM) for rhodamine 6G using just 4 μL of analyte solutions, corresponding to an analytical SERS enhancement factor of 1013. Our fabrication protocol demonstrates a simple, cost- and time-effective approach for the large-scale fabrication of a superhydrophobic SERS platform for ultratrace molecular detection.