Sensitive and specific detection of explosives in solution and vapour by surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy on silver nanocubes†
Surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) has been widely utilised as a sensitive analytical technique for the detection of trace levels of organic molecules. The detection of organic compounds in the gas phase is particularly challenging due to the low concentration of adsorbed molecules on the surface of the SERS substrate. This is particularly the case for explosive materials, which typically have very low vapour pressures, limiting the use of SERS for their identification. In this work, silver nanocubes (AgNCs) were developed as a highly sensitive SERS substrate with very low limit-of-detection (LOD) for explosive materials down to the femtomolar (10−15 M) range. Unlike typical gold-based nanostructures, the AgNCs were found suitable for the detection of both aromatic and aliphatic explosives, enabling detection with high specificity at low concentration. SERS studies were first carried out using a model analyte, Rhodamine-6G (Rh-6G), as a probe molecule. The SERS enhancement factor was estimated as 8.71 × 1010 in this case. Further studies involved femtomolar concentrations of 2,4-dinitrotoluene (DNT) and nanomolar concentrations of 1,3,5-trinitroperhydro-1,3,5-triazine (RDX), as well as vapour phase detection of DNT.