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Flexible SERS substrates for hazardous materials detection: Recent advances

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Figure 1

image: ‘Filter paper’ based SERS substrates achieved using aggregated Ag/Au NPs for explosive molecule detection (Left side) (a) schematic of substrate preparation (b) and (c) FESEM images of bare filter and aggregated Ag NPs (Right side) SERS spectra of (a) PA (b) DNT (c) NTO using FP with optimized, aggregated Ag NPs. [Copyright @ ACS. Reproduced with permission from ACS Omega 3(7), 8190-8201 (2018)] under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Licence 2.0 CC-BY-NC-ND. view more 

Credit: ACS

In a new publication from Opto-Electronic Advances; DOI 10.29026/oea.2021.210048, the research group of Professor Venugopal Rao Soma from the University of Hyderabad, India, discuss recent advances in flexible SERS substrates for the detection of hazardous materials.


Surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) substrates enhance the Raman scattering intensity of light from any of the analyte molecules, making it as a highly sensitive non-destructive spectroscopic analysis technique in the sensing field. It is possible, with additional research efforts, to prepare flexible, low cost commercially available large area substrates for public usage. Additionally, the developed flexible SERS substrates will be used in national security (detection of hazardous materials/chemicals), food safety (checking adulteration), and environmental monitoring (identifying pollutants) because of its ability to obtain the fingerprint information.


The research group of Prof. Venugopal Rao Soma from the University of Hyderabad, India reviews the various methodologies used for preparing flexible, low-cost, robust surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) substrates that are useful for sensing applications of hazardous materials (e.g., explosives, dyes, drugs, pesticides). Detection of explosives (particularly traces) is a significant challenge that has engaged numerous research teams all over the world. There are scenarios where one needs to identify an unknown material in trace quantities (<few mg; sometimes even nanograms or lesser).  For example, detection of small quantities is essential (a) in airport baggage/luggage (b) while transportation of any hazardous materials/chemicals (c) in post-blast scenarios an enormous challenge is to identify the materials used for causing the blast (d) identification of narcotics and (e) forensics.  Additionally, it will be necessary to do the testing in the field rather than taking the sample(s) to the laboratory. There are several ways reported for preparing efficient (i.e., detection capability of extremely small quantities and ability to identify unambiguously) SERS substrates. This article reviews those methodologies with particular emphasis on flexible substrates. Various molecules detected and their limits of detection are summarized.  The pros and cons of each method are discussed in detail. Furthermore, the future of these substrates is also highlighted.


Article reference: Bharati MSS, Soma VR. Flexible SERS substrates for hazardous materials detection: recent advances. Opto-Electron Adv 4, 210048 (2021) . doi: 10.29026/oea.2021.210048


Keywords: hazardous materials / flexible / surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) / nanomaterials / nanostructures

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Professor Venugopal Rao Soma obtained his Ph.D. in Physics (2000) from University of Hyderabad, India. He worked as a Research Fellow at University of St. Andrews, Scotland, UK (2000-2003) and as Senior Research Fellow at National University of Singapore, Singapore (2003-2004). His research interests include detection of bulk and trace explosives in the near-field and standoff configurations using the techniques of surface-enhanced Raman scattering/spectroscopy (SERS), laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) using femtosecond pulses, coherent anti-Stokes Raman spectroscopy (CARS etc.), ultrafast nonlinear optics [including the techniques of Z-scan, degenerate four wave mixing (DFWM)], ultrafast spectroscopy, and ultrafast laser-matter interaction. He has successfully established state-of-the-art ultrafast laser laboratories at ACRHEM, University of Hyderabad. He has successfully guided eleven Ph. D. students and mentored several post-doctoral, master, and undergraduate students. He has published a book, authored fifteen book chapters, and over three hundred papers in refereed journals and international conference proceedings. His group has established state-of-the-art ultrafast time-resolved techniques, ultrafast ablation techniques and investigated the dynamics of various materials. Professor Soma’s group has developed novel, robust, low-cost, and versatile surface enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) substrates based on plasmonic nanostructures for detection of several common explosive molecules using a portable Raman spectrometer, which is aimed for practical applications. Professor Soma’s group has synthesized several metallic nanoparticles, nanostructures using ultrashort laser pulses and utilized them in detecting explosives at trace levels and for photonic and bio-medical applications. Professor Soma’s group has recently demonstrated the capability of explosives detection in the standoff regime using filament LIBS technique. Recently, his group has filed a patent for developing nanocomposites based on few-layer graphene useful as protective coatings against high-temperature corrosion of mild steel used in missile canister applications. Another contribution of Professor Soma’s group is the development of microfluidic structures in a variety of polymers using femtosecond laser direct writing technique. These structures find applications in creating lab-on-a-chip devices for medical diagnosis.

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Opto-Electronic Advances (OEA) is a high-impact, open access, peer reviewed monthly SCI journal with an impact factor of 9.682 (Journals Citation Reports for IF 2020). Since its launch in March 2018, OEA has been indexed in SCI, EI, DOAJ, Scopus, CA and ICI databases over the time and expanded its Editorial Board to 33 members from 17 countries and regions (average h-index 46).

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