Surface-enhanced Raman Spectroscopy Facilitates the Detection of Microplastics < 1 μm in the Environment

Guanjun Xu, Hanyun Cheng, Robin Jones, Yiqing Feng, Kedong Gong, Kejian Li, Xiaozhong Fang, Muhammad Ali Tahir, Ventsislav Valev, Liwu Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

155 Citations (SciVal)
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Micro- and nanoplastics are considered one of the top pollutants that threaten the environment, aquatic life and mammalian (including human) health. Unfortunately, the development of uncomplicated but reliable analytical methods that are sensitive to individual microplastic particles, with sizes smaller than 1 μm, remains incomplete. Here, we demonstrate the detection and identification of (single) micro- and nanoplastics, by using surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS), with Klarite substrates. Klarite is an exceptional SERS substrate; it is shaped as a dense grid of inverted pyramidal cavities, made of gold. Numerical simulations demonstrate that these cavities (or pits) strongly focus incident light into intense hotspots. We show that Klarite has the potential to facilitate the detection and identification of synthesized and atmospheric/aquatic microplastic (single) particles, with sizes down to 360 nm. We find enhancement factors of up to two orders of magnitude for polystyrene analytes. In addition, we detect and identify microplastics with sizes down to 450 nm on Klarite, with samples extracted from ambient, airborne particles. Moreover, we demonstrate Raman mapping as a fast detection technique for sub-micron microplastic particles. The results show that SERS with Klarite is a facile technique that has the potential to detect and systematically measure nanoplastics in the environment. This research is an important step towards detecting nanoscale plastic particles that may cause toxic effects to mammalian and aquatic life when present in high concentrations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15594–15603
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Issue number24
Early online date23 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2020


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