Hybrid metal-semiconductor systems are promising substrates for field Raman analysis due to their ability to use both electromagnetic and chemical enhancement pathways for surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS). Photo-induced Raman spectroscopy (PIERS) has previously been shown to be a promising method utilizing an additional enhancement route through photo-inducing atomic surface oxygen vacancies in photocatalytic metal-oxide semiconductors. The photoinduced vacancies can form vibronic coupling resonances, known as charge transfers, with analyte molecules, enhancing the signal beyond conventional SERS enhancements. However, conventional UV sources most often used for excitation of the PIERS substrate are impractical in combination with portable Raman systems for field analysis. In this work we show how a small UVC LED, centered at 255 nm, can replicate the same results previously reported with the benefit of allowing greater in-situ real time measurements under constant UV exposure. The UV LED source can be controlled more easily and safely, making it a practical UV source for field PIERS analysis.
Enhanced Raman relies heavily on finding ideal hot-spot regions which enable significant enhancement factors. In addition, the termed “chemical enhancement” aspect of SERS is often neglected due to its relatively low enhancement factors, in comparison to those of electromagnetic (EM) nature. Using a metal-semiconductor hybrid system, with the addition of induced surface oxygen vacancy defects, both EM and chemical enhancement pathways can be utilized on cheap reusable surfaces. Two metal-oxide semiconductor thin films, WO3 and TiO2, were used as a platform for investigating size dependent effects of Au nanoparticles (NPs) for SERS (surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy) and PIERS (photo-induced enhanced Raman spectroscopy – UV pre-irradiation for additional chemical enhancement) detection applications. A set concentration of spherical Au NPs (5, 50, 100 and 150 nm in diameter) was drop-cast on preirradiated metal-oxide substrates. Using 4-mercaptobenzoic acid (MBA) as a Raman reporter molecule, a significant dependence on the size of nanoparticle was found. The greatest surface coverage and ideal distribution of AuNPs was found for the 50 nm particles during SERS tests, resulting in a high probability of finding an ideal hot-spot region. However, more significantly a strong dependence on nanoparticle size was also found for PIERS measurements – completely independent of AuNP distribution and orientation affects – where 50 nm particles were also found to generate the largest PIERS enhancement. The position of the analyte molecule with respect to the metal-semiconductor interface and position of generated oxygen vacancies within the hot-spot regions was presented as an explanation for this result.