The Ever Growing Use of Raman: SciX 2019

The  annual SciX (SCIentific eXchange) conference, organized by the Federation of Analytical Chemistry and Spectroscopy Societies (FACSS), took place October 13–18 in Palm Springs, California. The show served as the national meeting for the Society for Applied Spectroscopy, the AES Electrophoresis Society, the Coblentz Society and the North American Society for Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy, 4 of FACSS’ 15 member organizations. Founded in 1972, FACSS’ mission is to advance analytical chemistry and allied sciences, with the aim of educating, training, providing knowledge, and promoting peer networking and member organizations’ interests.

The conference presentations showcased the increasing number of applications for Raman spectroscopy, both new and old. Raman’s growing use in research, industry and government is driven by the technology’s speed and ease of use, among other advantages; ongoing commercialization, for example, the proliferation of handheld systems; and growing interest in Raman-related techniques, such as Raman microscopy and SERS (surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy). Presentations discussed both current implementations of Raman and its potential for broader use in fields as diverse as microbiology, medicine and opioid testing.

Among the areas where Raman could further benefit human health is point of use (POU). As part of the “Raman Spectroscopy for Security and Forensics Purposes,” Jürgen Popp, PhD, of the Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology, presented a talk entitled “Point-of-use Raman Solutions for Security and Forensics Purposes: Opportunities and Challenges of Real-World Deployment.” He began his talk by laying out the general requirements for a POU instrument, including affordability, sensitivity, user friendliness, rapid and robust operation, a small size and non-expert operation. Among the possible applications for POU Raman cited by him were medical care, water protection, microbiological security and food security. He specifically described work in testing for anthrax endospores in white powder using Raman, with inactivation, isolation and measurement completed in only two hours. Another example he discussed was the detection of pseudomonas in drinking water using Raman micro-spectroscopy. Within medicine specifically, he listed possible applications of Raman for liquid biopsies, infectious disease testing, testing for antibiotic results and regenerative medicine.

In her presentation entitled “Portable Raman Spectroscopy for Medical Applications,” Fay Nicolson, PhD, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, explored some of the possibilities of using Raman imaging for medical imaging. In describing the advantages of Raman for such an application, she listed the ability to do real-time imaging, the relatively inexpensive cost, the capable of use externally or internally of the human body, and multiplexing. Among the disadvantages were poor depth presentation and that whole-body imaging was not possible. Dr. Nicolson described her work using handheld SESO(R)RS (spatially offset resonance Raman spectroscopy) for ex vivo imaging of multicellular tumor spheroids and nanotags as to create models of cancer. She cited multiple challenges for clinical applications using handheld Raman, including the need for faster mapping, the inability to produce an image large enough to capture both diseased and non-diseased area, and software. An particular area of potential, Dr. Nicolson believes, is SESO(R)RS for endoscopy. FDA-approval of contrast reagents could drive development of this application.

In a presentation of National Research Council Canada researcher Li-Lin Tay, PhD’s work entitled “SERS for the Detection and Analysis of Fentanyl,” part of the “Pharmaceutical Forensics: Applying Analytical Science to Safe Manufacturing, Supply and Screening,” the use of handheld SERS was described as a swab test for fentanyl, with a limit of detection of 20 ng/mL. Quantification of the amount of fentanyl in heroin was accomplished using benchtop micro-Raman. Paper-based SERS sensors were developed for use as swabs.

SciX2020 will be held in Sparks, Nevada, from October 11 to 16.