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Raman images explained

Raman images (sometimes referred to as maps) depict a variation in spectral information from different points on, or in your sample. They can take the form of one-dimensional profiles, two-dimensional images, or three-dimensional rendered volumes. With them, you can rapidly see how a Raman parameter alters with position.

The parameter could be as simple as the intensity of a particular Raman band, or you could derive it from a more complicated analysis of the whole Raman spectrum.

The two main methods of collecting the spectral data to generate these images are Raman mapping and Raman imaging.

Raman mapping

Raman mapping collects a spectral hypercube (a Raman spectrum from each position on the sample in a single file), rather than a simple intensity image. The hypercube is analysed to produce Raman images.

There are several Raman mapping methods, such as:

  • Point-by-point mapping
    The laser is focused to a spot. A motorised stage moves the sample under the laser. Spectra are sequentially acquired from an array of sample points spanning the defined region of interest. Fast versions of this are Renishaw's StreamHR™ and StreamHR Rapide.
  • Line focus mapping
    This is similar to point-by-point mapping, but the laser illuminates a line on the sample, rather than a spot. This enables you to simultaneously collect spectra from multiple positions on the sample, saving time. With this method you can use higher laser powers without damaging the sample (reducing exposure times). Renishaw's StreamLine™ is a sophisticated modern implementation of this concept.

It is important to consider the potentially undesirable effects of undersampling when mapping. This is most clearly illustrated when point-by-point mapping: parts of the sample will be 'missed' if the laser spot is smaller than the spacing between acquisition points. Renishaw has solved this problem through the use of the StreamLine™ Slalom mode.

Generating Raman images from map data

Once all the Raman spectra are collected from the mapping experiment, they can be analysed to produce profiles, images or rendered volumes. Analysis options in Renishaw's WiRE software include:

  • Intensity at one frequency in the spectrum
    This produces an equivalent image to that from Raman imaging. These are quick to generate but may be misleading because it is not possible to differentiate between intensities arising from a Raman band of interest and those associated with a broad background fluorescence.
  • Curve fit parameters
    All the spectra in the set have a theoretical curve fitted to one of the Raman bands. Images are then made based on the theoretical curve parameters for each spectrum. Images are often made using the centre frequency of the curve (band), or the full width at half maximum (FWHM), as this is sensitive to stresses and crystallinity within the sample respectively.
  • Multivariate parameters
    Images can be generated using chemometric tools, such as generic principal component analysis (PCA), or Renishaw's Empty Modelling™, which is optimised for Raman data. The Empty Modelling method reveals systematic variations between the Raman spectra, and highlights the distribution of these variations across the sample as an image. This is achieved without the need for prior knowledge of what is present within the sample, which greatly simplifies the analysis process. Multivariate analysis is very powerful because it uses information from the entire spectrum, not just one part of it (intensity at one frequency) or one curve-fitted band. This typically results in higher quality Raman images.

Raman imaging

Raman imaging is analogous to taking a photograph; spectral intensity values are collected simultaneously from the entire area of interest. The laser illuminates a square or circular region on the sample. The light is filtered so that the intensity of just one narrow part of the spectrum is recorded on the detector.

The single image collected contains limited information, just the intensity of the light at that frequency. However, these images can be acquired rapidly. This is especially true if you have a high power laser; because the light is spread over an area, you can use all the power without damaging your samples, with correspondingly short exposure times.

Two-dimensional images are typically produced using this method. Renishaw's True Raman Imaging is an example of Raman imaging.

Note that it is possible to collect intensity values covering multiple points of the spectrum by using multiple and/or tuneable filters.

Spatial resolution

Point-by-point Raman mapping

Spatial resolution is determined by a combination of the laser spot size and the spacing between acquisition points on the sample.

  • Laser spot size
    This is a function of the objective magnification and the laser wavelength (higher magnification and shorter wavelengths produce smaller spot sizes)
  • Spacing between acquisition points on the sample (sampling)
    This is a function of the sample stage (ideally stages should have a large travel range while still enabling a step size down to 100 nm, smaller than the smallest spot size)

Raman imaging

Spatial resolution is determined by the magnification of the optics in the system and the size of the elements in the detector. Ultimately this is limited, by the inherent wavelike nature of light, to a little under a micrometre.

Download our Raman spectroscopy explained booklet