CHEMPHYSCHEM, vol.18, pp.2114-2122, 2017 (SCI-Expanded)
This work reports scalable, low-cost, and simple fabrication of plasmonic heterostructures consisting of gold nanoparticles (NPs) of different sizes to generate intense hot-pots over large areas to serve as substrates for molecular sensing in SERS applications. Our approach involves assembly of massively-available colloidal gold NPs on substrates functionalized with endgrafted poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) brushes without need for any sophisticated tools and post-modification of the particles and substrates. From real-time monitoring of the adsorption process by using a quartz crystal microbalance, we identified that the cyclic deposition of citrate-stabilized gold NPs on PEG brushes is an effective approach to modulate the kinetics of particle adsorption and greatly improves the surface coverage leading to reduced inter-particle distances. Cyclic deposition of NPs differing in size leads to placement of the small particles in close proximity of the large ones, yielding hot-spots as a consequence of the unique type of interaction between PEG chains and gold NPs. Assembly of heterostructures (60 nm + 40 nm and 60 nm + 20 nm) at optimized conditions resulted in strong SERS effects with enhancement factors as high as approximate to 2.0 x 10(6) and enabled detection of rhodamine 6G molecules in concentrations as low as 1 nm. The cyclic deposition of NPs also results in increase of the water contact angle without need for any post-modification of the substrate, resulting in approximate to 30 fold increase in the Raman intensity of aqueous molecules. The insights gained on the adsorption of gold NPs together with the simplicity of the presented approach show great promise for surface assembly of colloidal NPs for a broad range of applications.