Place & Play SERS: sample collection and preparation-free surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy†
The ability to perform sensitive, real-time, in situ, multiplex chemical analysis is indispensable for diverse applications such as human health monitoring, food safety testing, forensic analysis, environmental sensing, and homeland security. Surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) is an effective tool to offer the ability by virtue of its high sensitivity and rapid label-free signal detection as well as the availability of portable Raman spectrometers. Unfortunately, the practical utility of SERS is limited because it generally requires sample collection and preparation, namely, collecting a sample from an object of interest and placing the sample on top of a SERS substrate to perform a SERS measurement. In fact, not all analytes can satisfy this requirement because the sample collection and preparation process may be undesirable, laborious, difficult, dangerous, costly, or time-consuming. Here we introduce “Place & Play SERS” based on an ultrathin, flexible, stretchable, adhesive, biointegratable gold-deposited polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) nanomesh substrate that enables placing the substrate on top of an object of interest and performing a SERS measurement of the object by epi-excitation without the need for touching, destroying, and sampling it. Specifically, we characterized the sensitivity of the gold/PVA nanomesh substrate in the Place & Play SERS measurement scheme and then used the scheme to conduct SERS measurements of both wet and dry objects under nearly real-world conditions. To show the practical utility of Place & Play SERS, we demonstrated two examples of its application: food safety testing and forensic analysis. Our results firmly verified the new measurement scheme of SERS and are expected to extend the potential of SERS by opening up untapped applications of sensitive, real-time, in situ multiplex chemical analysis.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Analytical Methods HOT Articles 2023