The potential of surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) spectroscopy in both laboratory and field analyses depends on the reliable formation of so-called SERS hot spots, such as those formed during gold or silver nanoparticle aggregation. Unfortunately such aggregates are not stable in solution because they typically grow until they precipitate. Here we describe the use of low-molecular-weight hydrogels formed through pH-triggered self-assembly that occurs at a rate that well matches the rates of aggregation of Au or Ag colloids, allowing them to be trapped at the SERS-active point in the aggregation process. We show that the colloid-containing gels give SERS signals similar to the parent colloid but are stable over several months. Moreover, lyophilized gels can be stored as dry powders for subsequent use in the analyses of gases and dissolved analytes by contact with either solutions or vapors. The present system shows how the combination of pH-switchable low-molecular-weight gelators and pH-induced colloid aggregation can be combined to make a highly stable, low-cost SERS platform for the detection of volatile organic compounds and the microvolume analysis of solutions.
- ENHANCED RAMAN-SPECTROSCOPY