Paper Type

Master's Thesis


College of Computing, Engineering & Construction

Degree Name

Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering (MSME)



NACO controlled Corporate Body

University of North Florida. School of Engineering

First Advisor

Dr. Stephen Stagon

Second Advisor

Dr. Paul Eason

Third Advisor

Dr. Lev Gasparov

Department Chair

Dr. Murat Tiryakioglu

College Dean

Dr. Mark A. Tumeo


Raman spectroscopy is employed by NASA, and many others, to detect trace amounts of substances. Unfortunately, the Raman signal is generally too weak to detect when very small, but non-trivial, amounts of molecules are present. One way around this weak signal is to use surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS).

When used as substrates for SERS, metallic nanorods grown using physical vapor deposition (PVD) provide a large enhancement factor to the Raman signal, as much as 1012. However, Silver (Ag) nanorods that give high enhancement suffer from rapid degradation as a function of time and exposure to harsh environment. Exposure to harsh environments is an enormous issue for NASA; considering all environments experienced during space missions will be drastically different from Earth regarding atmosphere pressure, atmosphere composition, and environmental temperature. Au and Ag nanorods suffer from a thermochemical kinetic phenomenon where the surface atoms diffuse and cause the nanostructures to coalesce towards bulk structure. When in bulk, SERS enhancement is lost and the substrate becomes useless.

A stable structure for SERS detection is designed through engineering the barriers to surface diffusion. Aluminum (Al) nanorods are forced to undergo surface diffusion through thermal annealing and form rough mounds with a stable terminating oxide layer. When Ag is deposited on top of this Al structure, it becomes kinetically bound and changes to physical structure become impeded. Using this paradigm, samples are grown with varied lengths of Ag and are then characterized using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and Ultraviolet-Visible spectroscopy. The performance of the samples are then tested using SERS experiments for the detection of trace amounts of rhodamine 6G, a ‘gold standard’ analyte. Characterization shows the effectiveness of the Raman substrates remains stable up to 500°C.

Transitioning to basic scientific investigation, next is to strive to isolate the individual impacts of chemical and physical changes to the Ag nanostructure and how they affect the Raman signal. Substrates are compared over the course of a month long experiment to determine the effects of vacuum storage and addressing the effects of chemical adsorbance. Additionally, this was attempted by comparing the signal degradation of Ag nanorods to that of Au, which is known to be chemically inert, allowing for the separation of chemical and physical effects. Although Ag and Au have similar melting points, Ag physically coarsened significantly more. FTIR also showed significant chemical contamination of the Ag, but not Au. A hypothesis is proposed for future investigations into the chemical changes and how they are coupled with and promote the physical changes in nanostructures.

Overall, the novel SERS substrate engineered here may enable the detection of trace amounts of molecules in harsh environments and over long timescales. Conditions such as those found on space missions, where substrates will experience months or years of travel, high vacuum environments, and environments of extreme temperatures.