A chemical method of synthesis and application of coating materials that are especially suitable for surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS)has been developed.The purpose of this development is to facilitate the utilization of the inherently high sensitivity of SERS to detect chemicals of interest (analytes) in trace amounts, without need for lengthy sample preparation.

Up to now,the use of SERS has not become routine because the methods available have not been able to reproduce sampling conditions and provide quantitative measurements. In contrast, the coating materials of the present method enable analysis with minimum preparation of samples, and SERS measurements made using these materials are reproducible and reversible. Moreover, unlike in methods investigated in prior efforts to implement SERS, sampling is not restricted to such specific environments as electrolytes or specific solvents.

The coating materials of this method are porous glasses, formed in sol-gel processes, that contain small particles of gold or silver metal.Materials of this type can be applied to the sample-contact surfaces of a variety of sampling and sensing devices, including glass slides, glass vials, fiber-optic probes, and glass tubes. Glass vials with their insides coated according to this method are particularly convenient for SERS to detect trace chemicals in solutions: One simply puts a sample solution containing the analyte(s)into a vial, then puts the vial into a Raman spectrometer for analysis.

The chemical ingredients and the physical conditions of the sol-gel process have been selected so that the porous glass formed incorporates particles of the desired metal with size(s) to match the wavelength(s)of the SERS excitation laser in order to optimize the generation of surface plasmons. The ingredients and processing conditions have further been chosen to tailor the porosity and polarity of the glass to optimize the sample flow and the interaction between the analyte(s) and the plasmon field that generates Raman photons.

The porous silica network of a sol-gel glass creates a unique environment for stabilizing SERS-active metal particles. Relative to other material structures that could be considered for SERS, the porous silica network offers higher specific surface area and thus greater interaction between analyte molecules and metal particles. Efforts to perform SERS measurements with the help of sampling devices coated by this method have been successful.In tests,numerous organic and inorganic chemicals were analyzed in several solvents, including water. The results of the tests indicate that the SERS measurements were reproducible within 10 percent and linear over five orders of magnitude.One measure of the limits of detectability of chemicals in these tests was found to be a concentration of 300 parts per billion. Further development may eventually make it possible to realize the full potential sensitivity of SERS for detecting some analytes in quantities as small as a single molecule.

This work was done by Stuart Farquharson, Chad Nelson, and Yuan Lee of Advanced Fuels Research Inc.for Johnson Space Center. In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:

Advanced Fuel ResearchInc. 87 Church Street
East Hartford, CT 06108
Telephone No: (860)528-9806
Fax No. (860)528-0648
Internet: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Refer to MSC-23197, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the November, 2004 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

Read more articles from the archives here.