Investigating Nanoscale Electrochemistry with Surface- and Tip-Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy

Stephanie Zaleski, Andrew J. Wilson, Michael Mattei, Xu Chen, Guillaume Goubert, M. Fernanda Cardinal, Katherine A. Willets, Richard P. Van Duyne*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


ConspectusThe chemical sensitivity of surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) methodologies allows for the investigation of heterogeneous chemical reactions with high sensitivity. Specifically, SERS methodologies are well-suited to study electron transfer (ET) reactions, which lie at the heart of numerous fundamental processes: electrocatalysis, solar energy conversion, energy storage in batteries, and biological events such as photosynthesis. Heterogeneous ET reactions are commonly monitored by electrochemical methods such as cyclic voltammetry, observing billions of electrochemical events per second. Since the first proof of detecting single molecules by redox cycling, there has been growing interest in examining electrochemistry at the nanoscale and single-molecule levels. Doing so unravels details that would otherwise be obscured by an ensemble experiment. The use of optical spectroscopies, such as SERS, to elucidate nanoscale electrochemical behavior is an attractive alternative to traditional approaches such as scanning electrochemical microscopy (SECM). While techniques such as single-molecule fluorescence or electrogenerated chemiluminescence have been used to optically monitor electrochemical events, SERS methodologies, in particular, have shown great promise for exploring electrochemistry at the nanoscale. SERS is ideally suited to study nanoscale electrochemistry because the Raman-enhancing metallic, nanoscale substrate duly serves as the working electrode material. Moreover, SERS has the ability to directly probe single molecules without redox cycling and can achieve nanoscale spatial resolution in combination with super-resolution or scanning probe microscopies.This Account summarizes the latest progress from the Van Duyne and Willets groups toward understanding nanoelectrochemistry using Raman spectroscopic methodologies. The first half of this Account highlights three techniques that have been recently used to probe few- or single-molecule electrochemical events: single-molecule SERS (SMSERS), superlocalization SERS imaging, and tip-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (TERS). While all of the studies we discuss probe model redox dye systems, the experiments described herein push the study of nanoscale electrochemistry toward the fundamental limit, in terms of both chemical sensitivity and spatial resolution. The second half of this Account discusses current experimental strategies for studying nanoelectrochemistry with SERS techniques, which includes relevant electrochemically and optically active molecules, substrates, and substrate functionalization methods. In particular, we highlight the wide variety of SERS-active substrates and optically active molecules that can be implemented for EC-SERS, as well as the need to carefully characterize both the electrochemistry and resultant EC-SERS response of each new redox-active molecule studied. Finally, we conclude this Account with our perspective on the future directions of studying nanoscale electrochemistry with SERS/TERS, which includes the integration of SECM with TERS and the use of theoretical methods to further describe the fundamental intricacies of single-molecule, single-site electrochemistry at the nanoscale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2023-2030
Number of pages8
JournalAccounts of chemical research
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 20 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)


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