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Method (dispersive Raman spectroscopy)

Portable Raman spectrometer, as used at NASA

Portable Raman spectrometer, as used at NASA (NASA usage guidelines)

Raman used light from the Sun focused through a telescope to achieve a high enough intensity in his scattered signal. Modern spectrometers use both improved sources and more sensitive detectors to obtain better results. Early spectrometers used mercury arc lamps as a light source. Now lasers are normally employed due to their high intensity, single wavelength and coherent beam.

Initial spectrometers used photographic plates to detect the light. The advent of more sensitive photomultiplier tubes led to their widespread use, allowing the data to be collected and manipulated electronically. However they had the disadvantage of only being able to count one wavelength at a time. Modern spectrometers use charge-coupled devices (CCDs) that combine the advantages of the previous techniques, being highly sensitive, electronic, and able to measure a whole spectrum at once.

The chief difficulty in Raman spectroscopy is preventing overlapping of the Raman signal by stray light from the far more intense Rayleigh scattering. Interference notch filters are commonly used, which filter out wavelengths within approximately 100 cm-1 of the laser wavelength. However these are obviously of no use for studying low Raman shifts (e.g. those produced by low frequency phonons) within this region. One improvement is to use multiple stages for dispersion, with either double or triple spectrometers. Holographic diffraction gratings can be used which result in much less stray light than ruled ones. More info

A simplified diagram of a Raman spectrometer’s operation is shown below.

Schematic of a sprectrometer

An important consideration in Raman spectroscopy is the spectral resolution, the ability to resolve features within the spectrum. There are two ways to increase spectral resolution, by increasing the focal length or by changing the grating used to disperse the spectrum. Doubling the focal length approximately doubles the spectral resolution. Similarly doubling the density of lines on the grating results in twice the dispersion and twice the spectral resolution. However higher density gratings have restricted working ranges e.g. a grating with 2000 lines per mm cannot be used for infrared work.

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The choice of wavelength used is important, and can range from the near infrared into the ultraviolet. As already mentioned the choice may be limited by the density of the diffraction grating. In addition for materials that show fluorescence it is vital to choose a longer wavelength that will minimise fluorescence, as otherwise this will swamp the weak Raman effect. However, higher energy ultraviolet lasers can be useful for penetrating certain samples where fluorescence is not a problem. Another consideration is that visible lasers are generally easier to work with. These varying factors mean that many spectrometers have a number of lasers, which can be switched as appropriate. Of course different lasers will require different filters to remove the Rayleigh scattered light.

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