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pH-Triggered Molecular Alignment for Reproducible SERS Detection via an AuNP/Nanocellulose Platform
The low affinity of neutral and hydrophobic molecules towards noble metal surfaces hinders their detection by surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS). Herein, we present a method to enhance gold nanoparticle (AuNP) surface affinity by lowering the suspension pH below the analyte pKa. We developed an AuNP/bacterial cellulose (BC) nanocomposite platform and applied it to two common pollutants, carbamazepine (CBZ) and atrazine (ATZ) with pKa values of 2.3 and 1.7, respectively. Simple mixing of the analytes with AuNP/BC at pH < pKa resulted in consistent electrostatic alignment of the CBZ and ATZ molecules across the nanocomposite and highly reproducible SERS spectra. Limits of detection of 3 nM and 11 nM for CBZ and ATZ, respectively, were attained. Tests with additional analytes (melamine, 2,4-dichloroaniline, 4-chloroaniline, 3-bromoaniline, and 3-nitroaniline) further illustrate that the AuNP/BC platform provides reproducible analyte detection and quantification while avoiding the uncontrolled aggregation and flocculation of AuNPs that often hinder low pH detection.