Collaborative Research: A Mechanistic Study of Chemical Enhancement in Surface Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy and Graphene Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy

Project: Research project

Project Details


With support from the Chemical Measurement and Imaging Program in the Division of Chemistry, Professor Cronin at University of Southern California and Professor Jensen at Pennsylvania State University investigate the use of Raman spectroscopy as a powerful tool that measures the energies of specific bond stretches. This technique provide the unique fingerprint for chemical identification. As such, Raman spectroscopy is extremely useful for a number of applications in chemical, environmental and threat detection monitoring. While a highly useful technique, the Raman scattering cross-section of most molecules is extremely small, and this generally limits its potential uses. Surface Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS) and Graphene Enhanced Raman Scattering (GERS), the techniques investigated in this research project, can be used to improve the small signal intensities, thus making Raman spectroscopy-related applications more practical. In terms of broader impacts Dr. Cronin creates workshops for Los Angeles high school chemistry teachers. He leverages existing relationships between USC and its neighboring high schools (e.g., USC's Good Neighbors Campaign, Joint Education Project, and the Service Learning Program) to increase the attendance from disadvantaged schools (i.e., central Los Angeles inner city schools) serving underrepresented minority groups. The content of the workshop is reformulated to expose underrepresented students to the results and, more importantly, the excitement of research. Research projects for undergraduate students introduce them to fundamental scientific research and give them confidence to pursue careers in science and engineering. A new module devoted to SERS is developed for a new course at USC on nanoscience and nanotechnology, and their research accomplishments are discussed in class and integrated into the curriculum. Professor Jansen uses a website,, to share their computational tools with scientists outside of his labs.

In this collaboration, Professors Cronin and Jensen investigate the mechanism behind the strong spectroscopic responses observed in two surface-based spectroscopic techniques: Surface Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS) and Graphene Enhanced Raman Scattering (GERS). They use both experimental and computational tools to carefully isolate the enhanced Raman signals caused by Chemical Enhancement (CE) from those signals caused by ElectroMagnetic Enhancement (EM) in order to understand the CE mechanism. Specifically, Professor Cronin's group at USC performs Raman spectroscopy of single molecules on various SERS substrates, which enables a direct comparison with the theoretical calculations preformed at the Jensen's group at PSU. The Raman spectra are collected under various electrochemical conditions in order to explore the role of the molecule-metal energy level alignment and decouple the vibrational-mode-specific chemical enhancement from the uniform chemical enhancement. Professor Jensen's first principles calculations provide a detailed theoretical framework for interpreting chemical enhancement in SERS and GERS spectra to facilitate a better understanding of the chemical enhancement mechanism. Students in both groups experience the interdisciplinary training opportunities. Both groups' are actively engaged in outreach activities to local high school teachers and general public.

Effective start/end date7/15/176/30/21


  • National Science Foundation: $194,808.00


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