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Applications

There are a huge number of applications of Raman spectroscopy. Below are a few notable examples.

Measuring/mapping stress

Raman spectroscopy can be used to measure stress and strain in materials. Tensile strain increases the length of the bonds and the tension in them, hence changing the frequency of the phonons. It therefore causes a shift in the observed Raman bands towards lower wavenumbers.

Forensics, explosives/drugs detection

Photo of Raman integrated tunable sensor

Photo of Raman integrated tunable sensor from Oak Ridge National Laboratory site. (See their copyright notice)

Advances in technology have led to much smaller spectrometers, which are moving from the laboratory bench towards handheld devices that can be used for analysis in the field. They may be linked to a library of spectra, and can be used by law enforcement and customs officials to detect explosives, drugs and other chemicals. They are also useful for quickly identifying possibly hazardous materials e.g. after a spillage.
Pictured is a Raman integrated tunable sensor (RAMITS) developed by the US government. It has a probe coated with silver nanoparticles, which allow Surface Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy, boosting the signal. The instrument is handheld and battery powered.

Process monitoring

Raman spectroscopy is a non-destructive process, and can be used to monitor industrial processes. The speed of analysis means that it can give almost real-time information. Another advantage is that the light to be monitored can be sent down fibre-optics, so that the Raman equipment can be located some distance away from the actual processing.

Uncovering artistic techniques

Photo of Book of Kells

A page from the book of Kells - in the public domain from Wikimedia Commons

As well as monitoring state of the art processes, Raman spectroscopy is being used to uncover the secrets of ancient artefacts. Scientists at Trinity College in Dublin are using Raman spectroscopy to examine the famous Book of Kells, an illustrated manuscript dating from the 9th century. They hope to determine the composition and origins of the paper, inks and pigments used, which will tell them about techniques used and trade routes of the age.

Life on Mars

Raman spectroscopy could also be used to search for life on Mars. Modern Raman technology has been miniaturised to the point that a small spectroscope will be carried on a future mission to the planet. The instrument will be used to look for evidence of life and/or life supporting conditions either in the present or the distant past, as well as more general analysis of the Martian surface. Similar instruments could be featured on missions to other potential sites of life such as Europa or Callisto.

Carbon nanotubes

Because of their structure, carbon nanotubes can be made to resonate with light. They may resonate with either the incident wavelength, or Raman scattered wavelengths. Resonance can also occur for a number of different modes. Some of the most important are the radial breathing mode, the disorder mode and the high energy mode.

Observations of these can be used to determine important properties of the nanotubes, such as their diameter and strain. Raman spectroscopy is one of the easiest ways of measuring these vital properties.


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