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Photoluminescence explained

When a sample is illuminated by a laser, both Raman scattering and photoluminescence (PL) can occur. The latter can be many times stronger than the former and can prevent successful Raman analysis.

PL comprises both fluorescence and phosphorescence processes and originates from an absorption/emission process between different electronic energy levels in the material. The amount and type of PL depends on which material you are studying and which laser wavelength you are using. Unwanted fluorescence interference can normally be avoided by choosing an appropriate laser wavelength.

What PL can tell us

In many cases photoluminescence carries useful information that can facilitate sample analysis and augment the Raman data. inVia confocal Raman microscopes are suited to the analysis of both Raman scattering and PL.

Fluorescence imaging (a type of PL) is often employed in the biological sciences, where fluorescent tags are used to reveal the presence and distribution of molecular species. However, this approach is more invasive than Raman analysis, which is typically tag-free. Renishaw's inVia confocal Raman microscope can be used to generate images of fluorescent tags, but more commonly provides valuable tag-free chemical information.

You can also use PL to study crystal defects, such as atomic vacancies and substitutions. This is of particular importance for materials such as diamond and silicon carbide (SiC). Not only can you identify the defect, but you can also tell if the crystal has internal stresses.

How to avoid PL backgrounds

Occasionally PL bands are strong and broad, masking Raman information. You can counter this by using a different laser wavelength. This can move the Raman bands away from the peak emission of the PL band and may even avoid generation of the PL entirely.

Ideally, a Raman instrument should be able to switch rapidly and easily between different laser wavelengths, so that you can select or avoid PL features, depending on your requirements.

Download our Raman spectroscopy explained booklet