Graphene Quantum Dots Wrapped Gold Nanoparticles with Integrated Enhancement Mechanisms as Sensitive and Homogeneous Substrates for Surface-Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy

Rational engineering of highly stable and Raman-active nanostructured substrates is still urgently in demand for achieving sensitive and reliable surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) analysis in solution phase. Herein, monodisperse N-doping graphene quantum dots wrapped Au nanoparticles (Au-NGQD NPs) were facilely prepared, and further their applications as substrates in SERS-based detection and cellular imaging have been explored. The as-prepared Au-NGQD NPs exhibit superior long-term stability and biocompatibility, as well as large enhancement capability due to the integration of electromagnetic and chemical enhancements. The practical applicability of the Au-NGQD NPs was verified via the direct SERS tests of several kinds of aromatics in solution phase. Finite-difference time-domain simulations in combination with density functional theory calculation were also successfully used to explain the enhancement mechanism. Furthermore, the Au-NGQD NPs were conjugated with 4-nitrobenzenethiol (4-NBT, as reporter) and 4-mercaptophenylboronic acid (MPBA, as targeting element) to construct the MPBA/4-NBT@Au-NGQD probes, which could specifically recognize glycan-overexpressed cancer cells through SERS imaging on a cell surface. The prepared Au-NGQDs show great potential as superior SERS substrates in solution phase for on-site Raman detection.