This tutorial review discusses a new class of colloidal metal nanoparticles that is able to enhance the efficiencies of surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) by as much as 1014–1015 fold. This enormous enhancement allows spectroscopic detection and identification of single molecules located on the nanoparticle surface or at the junction of two particles under ambient conditions. Considerable progress has been made in understanding the enhancement mechanisms, including definitive evidence for the single-molecule origin of fluctuating SERS signals. For applications, SERS nanoparticle tags have been developed based on the use of embedded reporter molecules and a silica or polymer encapsulation layer. The SERS nanoparticle tags are capable of providing detailed spectroscopic information and are much brighter than semiconductor quantum dots in the near-infrared spectral window. These properties have raised new opportunities for multiplexed molecular diagnosis and in vivo Raman spectroscopy and imaging.
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