Typically, a sample is illuminated with a laser beam. Light from the illuminated spot is collected with a lens and sent through a monochromator. Wavelengths close to the laser line, due to elastic Rayleigh scattering, are filtered out while the rest of the collected light is dispersed onto a detector.
Spontaneous Raman scattering is typically very weak, and as a result the main difficulty of Raman spectroscopy is separating the weak inelastically scattered light from the intense Rayleigh scattered laser light. Historically Raman spectrometers used holographic diffraction gratings and multiple dispersion stages to achieve a high degree of laser rejection. In the past, PMTs were the detectors of choice for dispersive Raman setups, which resulted in long acquisition times. However, modern instrumentation almost universally employs notch or edge filters for laser rejection and spectrographs (either Czerny-Turner, echelle or FT based) and CCD detectors.
There are a number of advanced types of Raman spectroscopy, including Surface enhanced Raman, polarised Raman, stimulated Raman (analogous to stimulated emission), Transmission Raman, Spatially offset Raman and Hyper Raman.
The Raman effect occurs when light impinges upon a molecule and interacts with the electron cloud of the bonds of that molecule. The incident photon excites one of the electrons into a virtual state. For the spontaneous Raman effect, the molecule will be excited from the ground state to a virtual energy state, and relax into a vibrational excited state, which generates Stokes Raman scattering. If the molecule was already in an elevated vibrational energy state, the Raman scattering is then called anti-Stokes Raman scattering.
A molecular polarizability change, or amount of deformation of the electron cloud, with respect to the vibrational coordinate is required for the molecule to exhibit the Raman effect. The amount of the polarizability change will determine the Raman scattering intensity, whereas the Raman shift is equal to the vibrational level that is involved.
Subsequently the mercury arc became the principal light source, first with photographic detection and then with spectrophotometric detection. Currently lasers are used as light sources.
Raman gas analyzers have many practical applications. For instance, they are used in medicine for real-time monitoring of anaesthetic and respiratory gas mixtures during surgery.
In solid state physics, spontaneous Raman spectroscopy is used to, among other things, characterize materials, measure temperature, and find the crystallographic orientation of a sample.
As with single molecules, a given solid material has characteristic phonon modes that can help an experimenter identify it. In addition, Raman spectroscopy can be used to observe other low frequency excitations of the solid, such as plasmons, magnons, and superconducting gap excitations.
The spontaneous Raman signal gives information on the population of a given phonon mode in the ratio between the Stokes (downshifted) intensity and anti-Stokes (upshifted) intensity.
Raman scattering by an anisotropic crystal gives information on the crystal orientation. The polarization of the Raman scattered light with respect to the crystal and the polarization of the laser light can be used to find the orientation of the crystal, if the crystal structure (specifically, its point group) is known.
Raman active fibers, such as aramid and carbon, have vibrational modes that show a shift in Raman frequency with applied stress. Polypropylene fibers also exhibit similar shifts.
The radial breathing mode is a commonly used technique to evaluate the diameter of carbon nanotubes.
Spatially Offset Raman Spectroscopy (SORS), which is less sensitive to surface layers than conventional Raman, can be used to discover counterfeit drugs without opening their internal packaging, and for non-invasive monitoring of biological tissue.
Raman spectroscopy can be used to investigate the chemical composition of historical documents such as the Book of Kells and contribute to knowledge of the social and economic conditions at the time the documents were produced. This is especially helpful because Raman spectroscopy offers a non-invasive way to determine the best course of preservation or conservation treatment for such materials.
In nanotechnology, a Raman Microscope can be used to analyze nanowires to better understand the composition of the structures.
In direct imaging, the whole field of view is examined for scattering over a small range of wavenumbers (Raman shifts). For instance, a wavenumber characteristic for cholesterol could be used to record the distribution of cholesterol within a cell culture.
The other approach is hyperspectral imaging or chemical imaging, in which thousands of Raman spectra are acquired from all over the field of view. The data can then be used to generate images showing the location and amount of different components. Taking the cell culture example, a hyperspectral image could show the distribution of cholesterol, as well as proteins, nucleic acids, and fatty acids. Sophisticated signal- and image-processing techniques can be used to ignore the presence of water, culture media, buffers, and other interferents.
Raman microscopy, and in particular confocal microscopy, has very high spatial resolution. For example, the lateral and depth resolutions were 250 nm and 1.7 µm, respectively, using a confocal Raman microspectrometer with the 632.8 nm line from a He-Ne laser with a pinhole of 100 µm diameter.
Since the objective lenses of microscopes focus the laser beam to several micrometres in diameter, the resulting photon flux is much higher than achieved in conventional Raman setups. This has the added benefit of enhanced fluorescence quenching. However, the high photon flux can also cause sample degradation, and for this reason some setups require a thermally conducting substrate (which acts as a heat sink) in order to mitigate this process.
By using Raman microspectroscopy, in vivo time- and space-resolved Raman spectra of microscopic regions of samples can be measured. As a result, the fluorescence of water, media, and buffers can be removed. Consequently in vivo time- and space-resolved Raman spectroscopy is suitable to examine proteins, cells and organs.
Raman microscopy for biological and medical specimens generally uses near-infrared (NIR) lasers (785 nm diodes and 1064 nm Nd:YAG are especially common). This reduces the risk of damaging the specimen by applying higher energy wavelengths. However, the intensity of NIR Raman is low (owing to the ω-4 dependence of Raman scattering intensity), and most detectors required very long collection times. Recently, more sensitive detectors have become available, making the technique better suited to general use. Raman microscopy of inorganic specimens, such as rocks and ceramics and polymers, can use a broader range of excitation wavelengths.
The polarization of the Raman scattered light also contains useful information. This property can be measured using (plane) polarized laser excitation and a polarization analyzer. Spectra acquired with the analyzer set at both perpendicular and parallel to the excitation plane can be used to calculate the depolarization ratio. Study of the technique is pedagogically useful in teaching the connections between group theory, symmetry, Raman activity and peaks in the corresponding Raman spectra.
The spectral information arising from this analysis gives insight into molecular orientation and vibrational symmetry. In essence, it allows the user to obtain valuable information relating to the molecular shape, for example in synthetic chemistry or polymorph analysis. It is often used to understand macromolecular orientation in crystal lattices, liquid crystals or polymer samples.