Reassessing SERS enhancement factors: using thermodynamics to drive substrate design
Over the past 40 years fundamental and application research into Surface-Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS) has been explored by academia, industry, and government laboratories. To date however, SERS has achieved little commercial success as an analytical technique. Researchers are tackling a variety of paths to help break through the commercial barrier by addressing the reproducibility in both the SERS substrates and SERS signals as well as continuing to explore the underlying mechanisms. To this end, investigators use a variety of methodologies, typically studying strongly binding analytes such as aromatic thiols and azarenes, and report SERS enhancement factor calculations. However a drawback of the traditional SERS enhancement factor calculation is that it does not yield enough information to understand substrate reproducibility, application potential with another analyte, or the driving factors behind the molecule–metal interaction. Our work at the US Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center has focused on these questions and we have shown that thermodynamic principles play a key role in the SERS response and are an essential factor in future designs of substrates and applications. This work will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of various experimental techniques used to report SERS enhancement with planar SERS substrates and present our alternative SERS enhancement value. We will report on three types of analysis scenarios that all yield different information concerning the effectiveness of the SERS substrate, practical application of the substrate, and finally the thermodynamic properties of the substrate. We believe that through this work a greater understanding for designing substrates will be achieved, one that is based on both thermodynamic and plasmonic properties as opposed to just plasmonic properties. This new understanding and potential change in substrate design will enable more applications for SERS based methodologies including targeting molecules that are traditionally not easily detected with SERS due to the perceived weak molecule–metal interaction of substrates.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Surface Enhanced Raman Scattering - SERS