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J Am Chem Soc. 2018 Apr 4;140(13):4705-4711. doi: 10.1021/jacs.8b01501. Epub 2018 Mar 1.

Smart SERS Hot Spots: Single Molecules Can Be Positioned in a Plasmonic Nanojunction Using Host-Guest Chemistry.

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Center for Self-assembly and Complexity, Institute for Basic Science , Pohang 37673 , Republic of Korea.
Department of Chemistry , University of Ulsan , Ulsan 44610 , Republic of Korea.
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry , University of California , Santa Barbara , California 93106 , United States.


Single-molecule surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) offers new opportunities for exploring the complex chemical and biological processes that cannot be easily probed using ensemble techniques. However, the ability to place the single molecule of interest reliably within a hot spot, to enable its analysis at the single-molecule level, remains challenging. Here we describe a novel strategy for locating and securing a single target analyte in a SERS hot spot at a plasmonic nanojunction. The "smart" hot spot was generated by employing a thiol-functionalized cucurbit[6]uril (CB[6]) as a molecular spacer linking a silver nanoparticle to a metal substrate. This approach also permits one to study molecules chemically reluctant to enter the hot spot, by conjugating them to a moiety, such as spermine, that has a high affinity for CB[6]. The hot spot can accommodate at most a few, and often only a single, analyte molecule. Bianalyte experiments revealed that one can reproducibly treat the SERS substrate such that 96% of the hot spots contain a single analyte molecule. Furthermore, by utilizing a series of molecules each consisting of spermine bound to perylene bisimide, a bright SERS molecule, with polymethylene linkers of varying lengths, the SERS intensity as a function of distance from the center of the hot spot could be measured. The SERS enhancement was found to decrease as 1 over the square of the distance from the center of the hot spot, and the single-molecule SERS cross sections were found to increase with AgNP diameter.


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