A simple derivatization methodology is shown to extend the application of surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) to the detection of trace concentration of contaminants in liquid form. Normally in SERS the target analyte species is already present in the molecular form in which it is to be detected and is extracted from solution to occupy sites of enhanced electromagnetic field on the substrate by means of chemisorption or drop-casting and subsequent evaporation of the solvent. However, these methods are very ineffective for the detection of low concentrations of contaminant in liquid form because the target (ionic) species (a) exhibits extremely low occupancy of enhancing surface sites in the bulk liquid environment and (b) coevaporates with the solvent. In this study, the target analyte species (acid) is detected via its solid derivative (salt) offering very significant enhancement of the SERS signal because of preferential deposition of the salt at the enhancing surface but without loss of chemical discrimination. The detection of nitric acid and sulfuric acid is demonstrated down to 100 ppb via reaction with ammonium hydroxide to produce the corresponding ammonium salt. This yields an improvement of ∼4 orders of magnitude in the low-concentration detection limit compared with liquid phase detection.
- AQUEOUS SULFURIC-ACID