Advanced substrate design for label-free detection of trace organic and biological molecules
Combs, Zachary Allen
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To truly realize and exploit the extremely powerful information given from surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) spectroscopy, it is critical to develop an understanding of how to design highly sensitive and selective substrates, produce specific and label-free spectra of target analytes, and fabricate long-lasting and in-the-field ready platforms for trace detection applications. The study presented in this dissertation investigated the application of two- and three-dimensional substrates composed of highly-ordered metal nanostructures. These systems were designed to specifically detect target analytes that would enable the trace, label-free, and real-time detection of chemicals and biomolecules. Specifically, this work provides new insight into the required properties for maximizing electromagnetic and chemical Raman enhancement in three-dimensional porous alumina substrates by designing metal nanostructure shape, density, aggregated state, and most importantly aligning the substrate pore size with the excitation wavelength used for plasmonic enhancement leading to the ppb detection of vapor phase hazardous chemicals. A new micropatterned silver nanoparticle substrate fabricated via soft lithography with specific functionalization was developed, which allows the simultaneous analyte and background detection for trace concentrations of the target biomolecule, immunoglobulin G. Also, a novel functionalized SERS hot spot fabrication technique, which utilizes highly specific aptamers as both the mediator for electrostatic assembly of gold nanoframe dimers as well as the biorecognition element for the target, riboflavin, to properly locate the tethered biomolecule within the enhanced region for trace detection, was demonstrated. We suggest that the understanding of SERS phenomena that occur at the interface of nanostructures and target molecules combined with the active functionalization and organization of metal nanostructures and trace detection of analytes discussed in this study can provide important insight for addressing some of the challenges facing the field of SERS sensor design such as high sensitivity and selectivity, reliable and repeatable label-free identification of spectral peaks, and the well-controlled assembly of functional metal nanostructures. This research will have a direct impact on the future application of SERS sensors for the trace detection of target species in chemical, environmental, and biomedical fields through the development of specific design criteria and fabrication processes.