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Surface Enhanced Raman Scattering Selectivity in Proteins Arises from Electron Capture and Resonant Enhancement of Radical Species

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journal contribution
posted on 17.04.2020, 16:42 authored by Sian Sloan-Dennison, Chelsea M. Zoltowski, Patrick Z. El-Khoury, Zachary D. Schultz
Plasmon-enhanced Raman scattering is a powerful approach to detecting and characterizing proteins in live and dynamic biological systems. However, the selective detection/enhancement of specific residues as well as spectral diffusion and fluctuations have complicated the interpretation of enhanced Raman spectra and images of biological matter. In this work, we demonstrate that the amino acid tryptophan (Trp) can capture an electron from an excited plasmon, which generates a radical anion that is resonantly enhanced: a visible excited electronic state slides into resonance upon charging. This surface enhanced resonance Raman scattering (SERRS) mechanism explains the persistence of Trp signatures in the SERS and TERS spectra of proteins. Evidence for this picture includes the observation of visible resonances in the UV–vis extinction spectrum, changes in the ground state vibrational spectrum, and plasmon-resonance dependent behavior. DFT calculations support the experimental observations. The behavior observed from the free Trp molecule is shown to explain the SERS spectrum of the Trp-cage protein. In effect, resonant Raman scattering from radicals formed through plasmonic excitation represents an under-investigated mechanism that may be exploited for chemical sensing applications.