The onset of surface-enhanced Raman scattering for single-particle detection of submicroplastics

Cheng Hao Lee, James Kar Hei Fang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


Microplastics represent an emerging environmental problem worldwide, raising ecological and food safety concerns. Compared to microplastics, there is growing evidence of an even higher abundance of submicro- and nanoplastics in the environment, but a reliable monitoring method for detecting these smaller-sized plastics is lacking. Herein we presented the application of surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) for this purpose. Particles of polystyrene (PS; 600 nm) were used as the probe analyte. Gold nanourchins (AuNU; 50 nm), i.e. urchin-shaped nanoparticles with irregular spikes around the core, were used as the SERS-active substrate. The effectiveness of SERS on PS was evaluated at a single-particle level with different numbers of AuNU in order to determine the minimum conditions required for the onset of the SERS effect. Our findings suggest that SERS of a single particle of PS can be induced by as few as 1–5 particles of AuNU, and that the use of excitation wavelength at 785 nm is appropriate to meet the red-shifted surface plasmon resonance of AuNU upon aggregation. These specifications provide additional information for the development of SERS-based tools for detecting plastic particles < 1 µm in food and environmental samples.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-64
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Environmental Sciences (China)
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022


  • Food contamination
  • Gold nanourchins
  • Microplastics
  • Nanoplastics
  • SERS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)

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